This is a skill that takes a lifetime of work. I still read other lawyers’ arguments and books on communication to seek to be more persuasive. No one has the definitive formula on it. But the story telling approach seems the best. Humans are story loving animals. Our brains geared to the construction of narratives. Consider the following:
“A key—perhaps the key—to leadership is the effective communication of a story.”—Howard Gardner, Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership.
“Leaders don’t just make products and make decisions. Leaders make meaning.”—John Seely Brown, Xerox PARC.
“The essence of American presidential leadership, and the secret of presidential success, is storytelling.”—Evan Cornog, The Power and the Story: How the Crafted Presidential Narrative Has Determined Political Success from George Washington to George W. Bush.
“You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not.”—Isabel Allende.
“We are in the twilight of a society based on data. As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place more value on the one human ability that cannot be automated: emotion. Imagination, myth, ritual—the language of emotion—will affect everything from our purchasing decisions to how we work with others. Companies will thrive on the basis of their stories and myths. Companies will need to understand that their products are less important than their stories.”—Rolf Jensen, Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies.
He/She who has the best story wins! So….. work on your story. Tell the story of your case.
Regardless of the method used in the argument, the lawyer must be an artist whose medium is the word. You paint pictures, tell stories, form beliefs, analyze evidence and present a persuasive argument. The trial is a confusion of facts desperately seeking a common thread. Your job is to fashion one.
Here is what I am looking for:
A. What themes you were able to develop.
B. How well you organized your closing argument.
C. How well you presented the major issues.
D. Did you avoid abstractions and make your points with concrete images? Did you keep your talk moving and interesting using word pictures, creating images, using the parts of speech like metaphors, similes, analogies, stories, and illustrations? One caveat: you must understand that all analogies can be reverse-engineered by a clever opponent.
E. Finally did you create convincing demonstrative evidence like charts or maps? Today the summation must be multimedia. Blackboard, charts, outlines, timelines, computer graphics, video and audio. Put the facts into themes, organize, make sense of the huge numbers of and disparate facts. It must be show and tell.
If you intend on being a trial lawyer you must figure that in your career you will give hundreds of final arguments. Why not start preparing now? Collect ideas, sample arguments, stories, anecdotes, homilies, etc., which can be fashioned into arguments. Keep a file of all these ideas, or better yet, save them on your hard drive. During a trial, time is a luxury, and you can’t improvise a persuasive argument the night before closing. Vincent Bugliosi wrote that he spent 100 hours preparing each final argument, and Churchill spent one hour preparing for each minute of a speech. It is argument, not a summation of the evidence. Like the salesman, your mantra should be, “Always closing.”
The best example of storytelling in a trial is in the film JFK by Oliver Stone. The film ends with Kevin Costner, playing the prosecutor, giving his final argument that the president was assassinated by a cabal of right-wing fanatics. As he argues his points, Stone flashes back with scenes the audience has already seen proving what Costner says must be right. It is a powerful method of proof and we mimic it by weaving demonstrate charts and summaries, exhibits, video or audio tapes, and photographs of witnesses and scenes, into our arguments.
Here are some articles on how lawyers use stories to win cases: Lawyers as Storytellers & Storytellers as Lawyers: An Interdisciplinary Symposium Exploring the Use of Storytelling in the Practice of Law, 18 Vermont L. Rev. 567 (1994). Symposium: Picturing Justice: Images of Law and Lawyers in the Visual Media, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 891 (1996). “Desperate for Love”: Cinematic Influences Upon a Defendant’s Closing Argument to a Jury, 18 Vermont L. Rev. 721 (1994). “Desperate for Love II”: Further Reflections on the Interpenetration of Legal and Popular Storytelling in Closing Arguments to a Jury in a Complex Criminal Case, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 931 (1996). “Desperate for Love III”: Rethinking Closing Arguments as Stories, 50 South Carolina .L. Rev. 715 (1999). Some Off-the-Cuff Remarks About Lawyers as Storytellers, 18 Vermont L. Rev. 751 (1994).
I also highly recommend books on how to give presentations: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Gallo. Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers by Humes. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Heath. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Cialdini.
A good article on structuring your final argument: Ten-Step Guide to Closing Argument
Here are both Darrow’s final arguments in the Sweet trials. Sweet was a black doctor charged with murder for defending himself and his family from a white mob. This speech was Clarence Darrow’s closing argument in the first Sweet trial, a trial that ended in a hung jury as to all eleven defendants. The closing argument here was used in the second trial six months later.
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