Using a compelling story to present your case

By John Allison

As lawyers we are trained to present the facts of a case in a logical way that addresses the elements of a cause of action. When presenting a case to people who are not lawyers, however, it is far more effective to present the case in a way that tells a story.

A compelling story is based on a few themes that are woven together to have emotional as well as intellectual appeal.  Storytelling also creates opportunities to use analogies and metaphors to make points that draw parallels to broader human experience.

Using a compelling story is particularly important in jury trials. Most jurors make decisions based on their gut feelings and personal values, and then use reasons to justify their decisions to themselves and others. 

Your story should explain what the case is about from the perspective of your client. Consider this hypothetical presentation of Molly Smith’s product liability case against the manufacturer of a new car she was driving when the brakes suddenly failed:

 

          Molly’s life changed on March 21, 2018. It was a sunny day. Molly is driving

          her car to meet some friends for lunch. Her car is only a month old, the first

          new car she ever bought. She is looking forward to showing her new car to

          her friends. As Molly leaves the interstate the brakes suddenly fail and the car

          is hit broadside by a pickup truck. She had no idea that the manufacturer 

          of her car was aware of thirty similar brake failures in other cars of the same

          model. She wakes up in the hospital recovery room after an emergency

          operation saved her life. After three weeks in the hospital with two more

          surgeries, she is able to return home. Molly is worried about finances

          because she is still not able to return to work. She is also afraid that she will

          never be able to ride her horse again.

 

This is a compelling story because it is about what happened to Molly, rather than about the elements of her product liability cause of action. It is told in the present tense to paint a vivid picture of Molly’s experience. It also evokes a sense of outrage about the manufacturer’s callous behavior. This case presentation is persuasive because it tells Molly’s story in a way that is emotionally alive.       


John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of "The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers."