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Storytelling In The Courtroom And The Power Of Hope And Resilience

I love to read books about trial practice. One that I picked up recently is How to Tell the Winning Story, by Jesse Wilson, published by Trial Guides out of Portland, Oregon.

Jesse is a communication specialist, author, and jury trial consultant. The essence of his book is that those who have been injured must present themselves in court as “victors” and not as “victims.” He explains that a verdict built on jury anger is not always possible, and that if “damages” based on “harms and losses” is presented by a plaintiff who is “only a repository of hopeless debris,” then the plaintiff will either lose or the verdict will be small.

To achieve a large verdict, the jury must be able to see that the verdict will do some good. If the plaintiff presents as a lost cause, the jury will not be motivated to help.

Jesse points out that attorneys must make jurors care about the plaintiff. Such caring is achieved by finding something likable and redeemable in the plaintiff, and the character behind the plaintiff’s “hidden victory story.” He notes that we all love someone who doesn’t give up, yet many attorneys representing plaintiffs present their clients as people who have given up on life.

Jesse notes that “nobody falls in love with mere justice. They fall in love with the truth of the right story told. Justice is a byproduct of the story you need to tell.” He quotes social critic Cornel West, who reminds us, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

In every case, try to find your client’s story that focuses upon joy and hope. Tell that story. Do not tell the story of your client’s anger and despair. Other witnesses may testify about their losses. Have your client tell the story of their valiant efforts at recovery and of the joy they have experienced in life, and their hope to achieve that joy again.

Attorneys need to be the channel for our client’s story. Jesse admonishes that if an attorney cannot love his client, he must at least love his client’s story.

The villain in any trial also has a story. The villain cares, but only about himself. Jesse quotes the tyrannical King, Lord Farquaad, in the movie Shrek, who tells his suppressed subjects before they embark on the quest to kill the Dragon, “some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make!” (This reminds me of the Mark Twain quote about someone who said he had already given 2 of his cousins and a nephew in the American Civil War, and he is now willing to sacrifice an uncle.)

Bottom line: great verdicts are built on hope, not despair. Tell the plaintiff’s story of hope and joy, not of anger and despair.

For Oregon residents that need representation following an accident, Andersen & Linthorst offers experienced attorneys. Their Medford, OR car accident lawyers prioritize presenting clients’ narratives effectively, focusing on hope and resilience.