At the core, every successful trial attorney must be a storyteller. Sadly, law schools do little to nurture and develop this essential skill but rather, ironically, do quite a good bit to destroy the ability to communicate. After three years of legal education, graduates come out “speaking like lawyers.”
Once joining a law firm, the young lawyer is most likely relegated to drafting discovery responses, where clarity in communication is often not sought and even less frequently achieved. Next it’s on to motion practice where wrangling over legal elements and statutory construction further stunts the practitioner’s ability to converse in anything but the most obscurantist manner. Only after years of this regimen is the attorney deemed ready to talk to twelve ordinary people seated in the jury box. The result is as one would expect.
Some lawyers come to understand what has been done to them, others don’t. The one’s who do understand are likely to turn to books and seminars in an attempt to effect a 12-step recovery on their ability to talk like human beings. Yet the goal of many of these rhetorical “recovery programs” is to get you to speak “plain English.” If successful, you are back where you started and no closer to the skill of story telling then you were the day before you walked into law school.
Why not turn to the experts.
Who has the most expertise in being a storyteller than – you guessed it – the professional storyteller? But here again, do not confuse who is a “storyteller” for the purposes of communicating to a jury. While the novelist, actor, and screenwriter might all have something to contribute, what trial attorneys do is rooted in the eons old verbal art of which there remain few practitioners.
One such man is Irish storyteller, Eddie Lenihan who retells the traditional folktales that we unappreciatively label as mere superstition. Lenihan’s stories are surreal – and as such are the perfect antidote to the hyper-rationalism that dominates the lawyer’s mind. How many times does a case turn on the happening of the most improbable events (which in fact did happen!)? However, most of us fail to learn the craft of making those improbable events come alive to the jury. Lenihan knows how. (NB: He also shows that a Hollywood personal appearance and newscaster diction have nothing to do with it, which for most of us should be good news.)
So, take some time and enjoy the incomparable Eddie Lenihan in the following videos and see if that by the tale’s end you don’t find that for a split second you found that the improbable might just have occurred.