best practices

Story and history are not the same (for my lawyer friends)

A friend of mine, a county prosecutor, invited me to do a presentation with him about storytelling to an audience of attorneys. I learned a lot about the attorney frame of mind from him as we prepared. My big takeaway was that while they can be more skeptical than my usual nonprofit audiences, many attorneys face the same challenge—that good ol’, “I gotta tell ’em everything right from the beginning or they won’t get it!” myth.

Comprehensive = Cluttered
Telling your jury (or audience) every single detail might be handy when building a case but not in a introductory story. You’ll lose listeners. Open with a story where you travel light. The story will strike an emotional chord and get your listeners to lean a certain way (the way you want them to lean). Then review the evidence while they already have special lenses on—the lenses you gave them via the story.

Stories are not histories told in a jazzed up way.
Stories are about emotion, sequence, and editing. If you don’t edit your material down, well…it is kind of like putting on every article of clothing you own and then saying, “I’ll just put a belt on. That will tie it all together.” STOP! Too much is too much.

Stories and histories both matter. Their structures are different.
A story would start like this:
Linda was in an abusive marriage for 28 years. Everyday, she hid her bruises from her son. Until one day…
The hook is out there now. “Until one day…” tells your listener something interrupted a pattern—could be good or bad so you better stay tuned. Either way, Linda’s life will never be the same. While we don’t know the details of the 28 years of abuse, we know abuse is draining and after decades of it, something’s gotta give. For the attorney, what follows in that story (good or bad) is precisely the information covered in the trial at hand. And it need not be comprehensive—it should be concise and emotional. That is what the rest of the trial is for.

A history would start like this:
Linda met her husband 28 years ago at work and they married after knowing each other for six months. At first they were like typical newlyweds. The first sign…

And from there you would cover the evolution of a 28 year marriage and the development of the abuse. This history would take time to tell. The facts would support the story you already told.

Adding story will give you the edge.
The story will be shorter and have less detail than the history. Telling the combo over the course of the trial will give you an edge over opposing counsel who might only bring a history to the table.

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