Whether you’re writing or arguing a brief, or arguing your case to a judge or jury, how successful you will be depends, in large part, on how persuasive you are. And how persuasive you are can depend on how well you tell stories.
Philip N. Meyer, professor at Vermont Law School and author of Storytelling for Lawyers, recently published an article on abajournal.com titled Going beyond the evidence to spin a story for your jury. In his article, Professor Meyer makes the case that effective storytelling can persuade a jury to interpret the evidence in a manner favorable to the storyteller. Consider Professor Meyer’s example from his book of Connecticut defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan’s artful closing argument in a complex murder case:
Louie Failla—one of eight co-defendants, reputed members of the Connecticut faction of the Patriarca crime family—was charged with multiple counts of racketeering in federal court in a 13-week trial. The most serious charge against Failla, a low-level soldier and driver for the leadership of the family, was for conspiracy to murder Tito Morales, his daughter’s former boyfriend and the father of Failla’s grandson.
Two mob informants had testified against Failla. But the most damaging testimony against Failla came from his own mouth. His Cadillac had been bugged by the FBI, and Failla was a man condemned by his own words. In surveillance tapes played at trial, Failla’s gravelly voice is heard plotting Morales’ execution under orders of the cruel mob boss Billy “the Wild Guy” Grasso, along with the two mob henchmen who also testified against Failla.
* * *
In his closing argument, . . . Donovan depicts Failla as a “verbal chameleon,” a narrative trickster, torn between the demands of his adopted mob family on one side and his love of his real family, including Morales, on the other.
* * *
In Donovan’s counterstory, Failla merely pretends to go along with the murder conspiracy in order to stall the other mobsters, but he does nothing to carry out the execution.
Although having solid evidence to contradict the opposing facts is best, when presented with one set of facts, as in the example above, it is important to remember that most facts can be interpreted more than one way. And, interpreting those facts in the context of a plausible story can go a long way to persuade the fact-finder to rule in your favor.