I came across this quote below while reading today. While there is just a bit of hyperbole in what Mr. Baldacci says, it’s not too great. How we tell our clients’ stories makes a lot of difference. Even when we try cases to judges, we have to remember those judges are human and respond to stories like the rest of us. Before they come up with reasons, rationales, and precedents, they develop a gut feeling about the case. They develop gut feelings about the parties and the lawyers. Those gut feelings are affected most deeply by the stories that are told. Sometimes, but not that often, black letter law will win your case, but if the black letter law is that clear, the case probably won’t come to trial. Thus, quite often the story and the characters will have the greatest effect on the decision by the court.
Some of the best fiction I ever came up with was as a lawyer.
You know who wins in court? The client whose lawyer tells better stories than the other lawyer does. When you’re making a legal case, you can’t change the facts. You can only rearrange them to make a story the better enhances your client’s position, emphasizing certain things, deemphasizing others. You make sure the facts that you want people to believe are the most compelling ones. The facts that hurt your case are the ones you either explain away or hideaway. That’s telling a story.
David Baldacci, quoted in Why We Write, edited by Meredith Maran (2013) (p.18-19)
This is an older review of two books that I read. They both merit continued attention by lawyers and others for the reasons set forth at the end of my post. Use this blog as a gateway into reading them. Of the two, I think that the McKee book Story is the most useful for trial lawyers.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
How Fiction Works & Story
I finished James Woods’s How Fiction Works (2008, 248p) today. Woods talks about the conventions and practices of fiction in the tradition of E.M. Forster. The elements of fiction are enthralling, as they convey life. After having recently finished Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting (1997, 419p), the two books come up for easy comparison. Woods discusses the conventions of various authors, most well kn0wn, and how details, realism, character, language, metaphor, and other literary devices mix in the history of fiction from as far back as the Bible. I enjoyed the work as a reminder of the aesthetic enjoyment of reading fiction arising from supreme craftsmanship. Very good indeed, although not as enjoyable as Story, which is an amalgam of high culture (lots of Aristotle referenced) with plentiful dishes of “how to” added. For trial lawyers (or those who have followed the example of the likes of Grisham or Stephen H. Greenleaf and moved to full-time writing), the books have a practical import on how to convey our clients’ stories, which is the stuff of trials.
Posted by Stephen N. Greenleaf at 1/18/2009