Steal a Plot for your Story

Storytelling is one of the many “secrets to success” in trial practice. Trial consultants, CLE teachers, and how-to book writers bombard us with the suggestion that we cannot survive without being great storytellers. I am not hear to disagree with them. But sometimes I think the instructions that come along with storytelling can be overwhelming or confusing.

We walk around all day telling stories. But if you tell most lawyers to tell the story of their case, they just cannot do it. The same lawyer might tell you an awesome story from college, full of details and punch lines. I think many of us feel like our story must be dramatic, uplifting, and inspirational. The problem is most of us are not wired or trained to tell those types of stories. The only essential element of a story is that it be interesting. So here is a simple idea; copy the format of an interesting TV show. I have some examples below. These shows have one big thing in common- every episode follows the same plot, with different facts for each episode…sort of like a plot formula:

Forensic Files – Every episode of Forensic Files follows the same format. Someone is murdered. The killer is unknown. The police uncover one clue at a time. A suspect emerges, but proof is inconclusive. Finally, the smoking gun is discovered and the killer is arrested.

This is an easy format for telling the story of your case. Your client is injured. Liability is disputed- the cause of the injury is a mystery. You are hired to investigate. You turn up clue after clue. Finally, you nail the bad guy.

Colombo – There is one real difference between the plot of Columbo and Forensic Files. In Columbo, you know who the killer is the whole time. The murder is always the first chapter. The rest of the show is about how Columbo catches the killer.

Once again, this is an easy format to follow. You tell the jury from the start who is to blame, but say the defendant would not own up to what they did. You were hired to prove the case and hold them responsible. Then tell the story of your investigation ending with the most damming evidence of all.

The Dukes of Hazzard – Boss comes up with a scheme. The Dukes get caught up in the scheme as innocent victims. Boss presses false charges on the Dukes to get them arrested. Unless the Dukes can defeat Boss’s evil plan, he will take something from them with no remorse, usually the farm. Just when it looks they are down and out, the Dukes find a way out.

The defendant comes up with a scheme. Your client gets caught up in the scheme as an innocent victim. Instead of doing what’s right, the defendant fights your client’s right to compensation. Unless you and your client can win the case, the defendant will take your client’s health and happiness with no remorse. The trial and the verdict are the only way out of the evil plot.
These are just examples. You could copy of the plot of a favorite movie just as easy. Break the movie down into simple chapters and plot chunks, then plug in your facts.

By Aaron Broussard – Louisiana Advocates, December 2016

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