Storytelling for Lawyers: 3 Ways to Create Engaging Legal Writing

Posted on 12-12-2016 by
Tags: engaging , #writinglegally , writing , Christmas

What do Christmas, legal writing and nonfiction have in common?  More than you think!

Legal writing pairs perfectly with the creative styles of telling a story.  Bryan Garner, a lawyer who pioneered the idea, says to let the facts show why your client is right – to tell his/her story – not just dryly explain it fact by fact.  A good story:

  • Moves an audience to thought or action – it is a powerful tool of persuasion.
  • Allows all listeners to humanize your client.  Telling your client’s story, woven with the facts of what happened, makes the client real in the audience’s eyes, like the hot, sometimes itchy Christmas sweaters people don this time of year. 

The Christmas season is jam-packed with good stories – movies, music, and if you’re into them, poems.  Lawyers looking to incorporate storytelling into their writing can find an enormous amount of examples this time of year.  Below are just a few samples.

Storytelling Lesson #1: Movies

A Christmas Story – This movie resonates across generational memories not only because it gets its own all day marathon every Christmas, but because it tells a great story! 

Some key pointers to pick up: for lawyers, A Christmas Story offers a storytelling lesson about themes.  One of them, family life, is universal.  Everyone has family experience and can therefore relate to the story.  Also, the movie’s scenarios could happen to an average family, or to members of that family in every-day life, making it relatable.

So, when representing your client, here are the two strategies to follow:

  • Highlight the universal themes the human heart holds dear to it… what hits home in every person… like the movie’s use of family.  Also consider justice, freedom of expression, honesty/truth, compassion, love, ethics – just a few in humanity’s extensive list. 
  • Make the story relatable!  Facts don’t humanize your client.  The audience learns nothing about the client other than what happened.  This alienates your client, and people tend to gravitate away from what they don’t know.  Instead, represent her as a person… a person who has their own unique personality, motives, ambitions, fears, morals, etc.

Storytelling Lesson #2: Music

The Christmas Song – This classic piece uses visualization in a simplistic way to let the audience “witness” the scene.  For example, one stanza from The Christmas Song reads:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

By using the five senses, Nat King Cole makes the listener imagine the frigid yet cozy wintry scene he wants listener to see.  Similarly, when the need arises, using description will help your audience visualize your client and the problem.  For the lawyer, description allows you to (with facts incorporated):

  • Describe what your client’s day might have been like inside and outside the problem.
  • Show how your client worked through the problem.
  • Force the audience to imagine what it must have been like when the problem happened.
  • Gain empathy towards the client because you can make the audience feel the impact of what the problem was.

Storytelling Lesson #3: Poems

Christmas Trees, by Robert Frost – A quick synopsis: Set in a very rural and beautiful winter setting, a “city man” comes to the narrator, looking to buy the narrator’s pine trees – then intends on selling them as Christmas trees.  The narrator is hesitant to sell them, though he loves the trees.  Once the city man tells him his price, the narrator feels ripped off and turns the deal down.  The trees are worth more to him than the price given. 

From sleepy to curious to doubtful to disbelief to disappointment, the mood Frost creates evolves in this poem.  Reading Christmas Trees for yourself, you can see that the words depict what the narrator is feeling at any one of those times… which the reader feels for themselves.  Mood also refers to the descriptors used in the setting.  Words such as flamboyant, boisterous, and giddy – paired with nouns – will immediately let the audience know that you are depicting something joyful that you notice in the setting, which helps when representing your client.  Creating a mood enhances:

  • How you want your audience to feel.
  • The empathy the audience has toward your client. 
  • The understanding of what the client’s emotions for their motives were.

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