ABA Journal


36 ABA Journal Storytelling articles.

Alas, Poor Atticus! Trials are supposed to be all about winning

The storylines that capture the popular imagination these days, at least in politics and commercial movies, assuage our losses and momentarily fill our neediness with, at least, the promise of victorious outcomes.

Alternative facts and the law: Is justice a reality?

I tell students in my first-year classes the practice of law anticipates the interaction between law and facts; legal doctrine matters only as applied to “the facts.” If we exist exclusively in a hall of mirrors where there are no actual facts but only alternative facts, then there may be judgment but not justice.

Many students find my perspective naive. One of my students put it this way: “As a general rule, the justice system seems to favor the ‘knowable’ version of the truth. Lawyers tend to believe the opposite.”

As most-cited songwriter, Bob Dylan brings complex poetry to court opinions

Bob Dylan is, by far, the most-cited songwriter or popular artist in American judicial opinions. And these citations are not merely add-ons or throwaways.

Use subtext to guide jurors to recognize what a trial is really all about

Trial lawyers, like literary artists, know how to pose the right questions. They construct the staging, especially in courtroom scenes, that directs their audience—jurors and judges, and sometimes the public—toward intended readings of dramatic subtext.

Lawyer storytellers break free from the clock to deliver persuasive arguments

How do we order events and then move about in time when telling law stories?

Don’t underestimate the value of comedy in the courtroom

Not long ago in these pages, a column asserted that humor is misplaced in the courtroom and proscribed for attorneys: “Don’t Be Funny: Litigation is no laughing matter to your…

What ‘Hamilton’ teaches lawyers about framing a story

The Broadway smash Hamilton teaches lawyers about framing a story.

What Adele and Taylor Swift can teach you about finding justice

For years I was a runner/jogger. I logged 20-30 miles a week and did some of my best law work on runs. Unfortunately, my middle-aged knees and hips gave out…

Solving Mysteries: Lawyers play detective in legal writing

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. begins his dissenting opinion from a denial of cert in Pennsylvania v. Dunlap this way:

Practical advice for trial lawyers from a playwright who just finished jury service

Recently I had the privilege of serving on a jury in a malpractice case. And I think I saw something you can use.

Images can be powerful storytelling tools

I often wonder why, assuming court rules permit it, lawyers don't incorporate more visual images—photographs and diagrams, including depictions of exhibits introduced at trial—directly into their briefs and court filings,…

Behavioral economist’s work offers lessons for legal storytellers about judgment and decision-making

In these pages last May, Bryan Garner referenced the "halo effect" from behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman's 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Litigation is no laughing matter to your clients

Humor is the lubricant that enables us to slide through the obstacles life places in our way. That's why we say: "If I didn't laugh, I'd cry."

How social emotions can influence jury deliberations

I am driving to the law school where I work, listening to Sirius radio. The Bridge plays music from the 1960s and '70s. Carly Simon sings "You're so vain. I…

How trials are more like plot-driven movies than character-driven novels

Character is crucial in most popular storytelling practices. Most especially, it is at the core of the modern novel. The late literary critic and novelist John Gardner observed that at…

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