lawyer as storyteller

James R. Elkins

Assignments Archive


Jerome Bruner, Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life 3-13 (Harvard University Press, 2002)

Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer's Art 1-16 (Temple University Press, 1999)

"Introductory notes on narrative jurisprudence" [distributed on the first day of class]

Portfolio Writing: Tell a story of how you found your way to this course.

Portfolio Writing2: Tell a story of how you found your way to law school.

[For commentary on the recommended Portfolo Writings, see: Portfolio Writings]


Bruner, pp. 13-62

[Bruner discusses, at some length, Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer," -- pp. 17-20 -- and it's a story worth reading. [online text of "The Secret Sharer"]

Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 85-96 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)

Portfolio Writing3: What do you find in Jerome Bruner's Making Stories about stories and how you might use them as a lawyer that you think worth exploring?

Portfolio Writing4: One way you might want to write about "the lawyer as storyteller" is by reflecting on how legal education engages, or fails to engage, your story sensibilities and imagination.

As background for this portfolio writing, you might want to read:

Storytelling Across the Curriculum

Legal Storytelling--Reflective Writing Across the Curriculum


Jerome Bruner, Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life 63-107 (Harvard University Press, 2002)(on the "narrative creation of self" and a return to the question, "so why narrative?") Bruner' introduces what will follow in the question that he poses early in the book: "[W]hat shall we make of the endless forms of narrative through which we construct (and maintain a self)?" [14].

Web Resources: I encourage you to begin using the Narrative and Story Resources page of the course website

Portfolio Writing5: With so much attention to stories and narratives in the academic disciplines and in the professions, one would expect opposition. In this writing you might try to use what you've learned from Jerome Bruner and from what you already know about stories to respond to the critics.

For one critic's response to the Bruner reading, and our consideration of what I have called the ubiquitous claim for stories--stories are everywhere and we can't get away from them and we can't live without them, and we never have--see British philosopher Galen Strawson's review of the Bruner book that appeared in The Guardian (January 10, 2004)[on-line text]


For Class Discussion (February 15): We'll work with the packet of readings you were given on "narrative medicine." Consider this question: What does the turn to narrative in medicine tell us, by way of translation, about the legal profession, the practice of law, and the use of narratives in our work and our lives as lawyers? Can you rewrite Rita Charon's descriptions of "narrative medicine" as a prolegomenon for "legal storytelling"?

Instructor's summary of the narrative medicine readings

In my extractions from the assigned readings for the Narrative Medicine webpage, I have drawn upon several Rita Charon articles that were not assigned reading. Charon repeats and expands on some of her central ideas in these articles. You may find them helpful as I do.


For this assignment, assume that you are an archaeologist digging at the the ruins of a large site known to have been frequented by lawyers. There have been many archaeological excavations of other lawyer sites, and now, mounting evidence suggests that lawyers, a good many of them at least, were fond of stories and made use of stories their work. What you want to do now is see if you can, by way of the shards and remains you find on various websites, reconstruct what it was that lawyers were doing in their "turn to stories."

If lawyers are going to use stories, and suggest to their fellow lawyers that they are more effective when they use them, then we can expect lawyers to want to learn more about stories and how to put them to use. Legal educators are going to take up this endeavor, along with trial consultants. Let's take a look at a few of the trial consultants, and see what they tell us about lawyer storytelling:

Lighting Rod Communications
[Diana Wyzga is a nurse-attorney and "professionally-trained storyteller who acts as a trail consultant and communications coach to lawyers. Lighting Rod Communications's expertise is showing lawyers how to identify, shape and effectively deliver their client's legal story using language with power, passion and precision. In turn, lawyers influence the listener's experience of the client's legal story as one they recognize in their own world view."][Four video clips available][Wyzga is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law. She practiced law for 10 years on plaintiff and defense cases in products liability, medical malpractice, health care, pharmaceuticals, and mass tort litigation. She is the author of journal articles on legal storytelling, and works hands-on with litigators, focus groups, and ADR, to identify, shape, and deliver a client´┐Żs presentation.]

Power Story Consulting, Inc.
[Richard Krevolin conducts programs on "storytelling for lawyers" and "legal storytelling" workshops.][Prof. K. on storytelling :: YouTube video, 4:11 mins.][Using Story to Create an Emotional Connection with Juries][Storytelling Seminar: Thinking Outside the Jury Box Workshop :: I think you'll find the Krevolin's schedule for the storytelling seminar/workshop of some interest.]

Practical JuryDynamics2
[Sunwolf shows lawyers "the powerful path to humanizing our clients, through storytelling, kindness to all, summoning our inner magic, and a reminder that 'reality is no obstacle.'"] [Sunwolf's book, Practical Jury Dynamics2, with the unfriendly price of $149 requires a deep pocket. Or you might want to browse Sunwolf's DVD, Jury Talk, priced by LexisNexis at $230. At that price, it's a hit on my conscience to even think about having the law library order it!][Santa Clara University faculty profile]


We'll discuss Gerry Spence's Win Your Case. Please read pp. 3-101 in the Spence book.

Reading Gerry Spence's Win Your Case

Gerry Spence & Storytelling Resources

Putting Stories to Work at Trial


Gerry Spence, Win Your Case: Read pp. 112-126 (voir dire)

Gerry Spence & Voir Dire Resources


Gerry Spence, Win Your Case: Read pp. 127-148 (opening statement)

Gerry Spence & Opening Statement Resources

Opening Statement in the Case of Jessie Misskelley
[by prosecutor Dan Fogelman in the West Memphis Three case, January 26, 1994][audio file]

Defense Opening Statement in the Jessie Misskelley case
[by Dan Stidham][audio file]

Assignment 9 & 10: Closing Arguments

Gerry Spence, Win Your Case: Read pp. 223-280 (closing arguments)

Gerry Spence & Closing Arguments Resources

State's Closing Statement in the Jessie Misskelley Case :: pt.2 :: pt.3
[audio file]

Defense Closing Statement in the Jessie Misskelley Case

State's Final Closing Argument
[audio files]

As we focus our attention on the story-based trial advocacy of Gerry Spence, you may find it helpful to compare Spence's perspective with that of other story-oriented trial lawyers and legal scholars. Of particular interest is the work of Philip Meyer, especially Meyer's article on closing arguments: Desperate for Love: Analysis of a Defendant's Closing Argument to a Jury, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 721 (1994).

[Meyer continued to explore his original thesis in Desperate for Love II: Further Reflections on the Interpretation of Legal and Popular Storytelling in Closing Arguments to a Jury in a Complex Criminal Case, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 931 (1996) and Desperate for Love III: Rethinking Closing Arguments as Stories, 50 S.C. L. Rev. 715 (1999)][See also: Philip N. Meyer, Making the Narrative Move: Observations Based Upon Reading Gerry Spence's Closing Argument in The Estate of Karen Silkwood v. Kerr McGee, Inc., 9 Clinical Law Rev. 229 (2002). You will also find of interest two additional articles by Meyer: Why a Jury Trial Is More Like a Movie Than a Novel, 28 J.L. Soc'y 133 (2001); Will You Please Be Quiet, Please: Lawyers Learning to Listen to Stories, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 567 (1994)]