lawyer as storyteller

James R. Elkins

Narrative and Story Resources


Narrative Jurisprudence

"While a law student's education may have taught them something about the state of the law, and its application to specific legal problems, I assumed that they had learned far less about lawyering and how it might affect a person's life. Learning to think like a lawyer--whatever that turns out to mean--is not the same as working as a lawyer and living a lawyer's life. Lawyering is the only professional calling that is adversarial in nature. It is adversarial in that lawyers find themselves pitted not only against each other, each side zealously representing a client, but lawyers often find themselves pitted against themselves in that the position of their client (which they are paid to represent) might not be their own. The result, for any person of substance, is an ongoing conflict between the lawyer with an independent intellectual (and a regard for the truth) and his role as advocate (for clients who may not share his intellectual concerns, nor his regard for the truth). Basically, law school doesn't help students recognize, explore, or deal with this problem of immersing oneself in an adversarial existence and being in conflict with one's self." [William Domnarski, Law and Literature, 27 Legal Stud. F. 109, 110 (2003)]

"We (those who subscribe to American law as a set of practices) need cases; we thrive on facts. With facts, we make stories, and we worry about the application of rules to the stories we make." [Kim Lane Sheppele, Narrative Resistance and the Struggle for Stories, 20 Legal Stud. F. 83 (1996)]

"Researchers have found that the human brain has a natural affinity for narrative construction. People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list, studies find; and they rate legal arguments as more convincing when built into narrative tales rather than on legal precedent." [Benedict Carey, "This Is Your Life (and How You Tell It," New York Times, May 22, 2007 (on-line text)]

An Empirical Study of the Power of Story

Beloved Are the Storytellers

Fiction Writing Techniques to Write Persuasive Facts Sections

Stories about Storytelling: 100 Years of Brief Writing Advice

Law as Practice & Narrative
[Dennis M. Patterson, Professor of Law, Rutgers University School of Law; 76 Va. L. Rev. 937 (1990)]

The Place of Narrative in the Courtroom
[Philip J. Candilis, M.D., LiteSite Alaska]

How Jurors Use Narrative to Process Evidence
[Robin H. Conley & John M. Conley, Robin Conley is in the Department of Anthropology, UCLA; John Conley is at the School of Law, University of North Carolinia; Studies in Law, Politics & Society (2009); SSRN]

Once Upon a Time in Law: Myth, Metaphor, and Authority
[Linda H. Edwards, Professor of Law, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, SSRN]

Client-Centered Interviewing Through Storytelling
[Laurie Shanks, Clinical Professor of Law, Albany Law School, SSRN]

This is Not the Whole Truth: The Ethics of Telling Stories to Clients
[Steven J. Johansen, Lewis & Clark Law School, 38 Ariz. St. L. J. 961]

Telling the Client's Story Using the Archetypal Hero's Journey
[Ruth Anne Robbins, Rutgers School of Law-Camden; 29 Seattle U.L. Rev. 767 (2006)]

The Power of the Narrative in Domestic Violence Law Reform

Law as Story: A Civic Concept of Law
[Palma Joy Strand, Creighton Law School; 18 So. Calif. Interdiscipinary L.J. 603 (2009)]

Themes and Stories in Employment Cases
[Samuel B. Rudolph, Plaintiff Magazine]

The Appellate Brief as Story

Stories of American Law

Norman Mailer, Gary Gilmore, and the Untold Stories of the Law

Jeffrey Dahmer, the Serial Killer--The Insanity Defense and Narrative

A Narrative Analysis of Korematus v. United States

Sign of the Times: Celebrity, Truth, and Legal Storytelling

Shooting Stories: The Creation of Narrative and Melodrama in Real and Fictional Litigation against the Gun Industry

A Witness to Justice

On Reznikoff's Testimony

The Power of Narrative to Inspire and Sustain Scholarship

Stories and Legal Education

"American law places stories squarely at the center of debate. Our tradition of legal education through the case method emphasizes the law produced in courts more than the law produced in legislatures. For those immersed in the three-year acculturation process of a contemporary law school, the focus clearly falls on appellate decisions. In these mini-treatises, judges follow the convention of rationalizing decisions by presenting the facts and law so as to make their choices appear inevitable. But students quickly learn that judicial decisions are, in fact, infinitely malleable. If reading dissenting opinions that re-characterize the facts or reinterpret the law doesn't convince a student, then Socratic badgering surely will. For a student educated in the case method, it is not cynical to conclude that judges tell stories to justify their decisions--this storytelling process is merely intuitive. Legal education teaches students that storytelling skills are the stock-in-trade of the legal profession. Legal arguments are created, much like a simple fable, from the stock elements of facts and law." [Mark A. Clawson, Telling Stories: Romance and Dissonance in Progressive Legal Narratives, 22 Legal Stud. F. 353, 357 (1998)]

Storytelling Across the Curriculum

Legal Storytelling--Reflective Writing Across the Curriculum

Stories in Law School: An Essay on Language, Participation, and the Power of Legal Education

Stories and Their Telling

"For the caveman, the world was a strange and unexpected place. Storytelling around campfires enabled the village to pool information about the baffling problems that faced the village, why the wolves were attacking or why the crops failed, or why the weather was so harsh or dry or wet, and so on. As we began to master these things over the last few couple of thousand years, we started to feel as though we understood what was going on. Now once again, the  world is becoming turbulent and things are, once again, looking unexpected. Hence we feel the urge to sit around a conceptual campfire and swap stories and this very old technology of storytelling resonates with us yet again." [Steve Denning, Why Storytelling at this Particular Time?][The World Gets Interested in Storytelling]

NPR's Scott Simon: How to Tell a Story
[YouTube video]

Historian Karen Wilson on Storytelling
[YouTube video]

The Storyteller with Professor Harold Scheub
[YouTube video]

New Forms of Storytelling
[Tribeca Film Institute at The New School]

That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It: Truth in Fiction, Lies in Fact

Story Intelligence


Framing: The Unspoken Necessity

Midrash: The Key to Interpretation

What is Public Narrative?

Public Narrative

Essays on Story by Ken Sanes

Contemporary Storytelling: Tales of Life Way After the Fall

"Most works of fiction, from movies to stories told around the dying embers of a campfire, work their magic on us by employing a single set of elements. They start by showing us characters who are in a state of exile from what they desire and who seek a kind of paradise in which their desires will be fulfilled."

Popular Fiction and the Quest for Freedom

"[We discover in ] the stories of popular culture--in movies, TV, news, political speeches, advertisements, and so on--are based on . . . themes that center around our desire to evolve into whole selves and good societies, in the face of fears and desires, and obstacles that block our path."

Schemas and Stories

"In everyday life, people rely on cognitive models, maps or schemas of how the world works, to organize their perception of events and determine how to act. These models make up much of the structure of the unconscious mind, on which our conscious thinking and decisions are based."

Westerns: The Founding of Civilization As the Bridling of Masculine Desire

"Of the various genres of fiction, one of the most popular in America has been the frontier story, which tells about characters who establish and protect outposts of civilization. Typically, the outposts of civilization depicted in these stories--whether they are space stations, ranches, towns or forts--exist in a sea of dangerous nature that can close in at any time. Just as typically, they are threatened from within by characters who seem to have a little too much in common with the raw nature on the outside."

The Real Self in a Virtual World: Popular Culture as an Expression of Human Nature

"Everyone--at least everyone with a reasonably normal mind and brain--has a true self that is partly buried beneath their everyday personality. This self is who each of us is and can become when our natural growth isn't interfered with by personal and cultural neurosis."

Story-Based Simulations: Art and Technology Masquerading as Life

"[T]he representational arts [fiction foremost among them] offer us the illusion of an objective reality in which everything exists to expand our inner life. In the nonfiction world, we find ourselves in circumstances that are governed by physical laws or other people's desires or chance. However much we may like to think otherwise, most of our efforts to re-create this world so it takes note of our values and desires are unsuccessful. But the enchanted realm of the arts temporarily place us in fictional substitutes that are crafted ahead of time to revolve around us, in which sense and meaning are combined in ways that satisfy our hunger for new and pleasurable experiences, and give our inner life an intensity that is only rarely evoked by the nonfiction world."

Story Writing by Bill Johnson

Understanding What a Story Is

"From prehistoric times when our ancestors gathered around fires in caves, storytellers have been aware of how arranging events in a story-like way held the attention of an audience."

"What is a story? I say it is a vehicle that carries us on an engaging, dramatic journey to a destination of resolution we find satisfying and fulfilling."

Perceiving the Foundation of Storytelling

"[A]t its heart, a story must have an issue at stake that is of consequence to the story's audience. Something the members of the audience will desire to experience in a state of resolution and fulfillment. Love. Courage. Redemption. Renewal. Some issue that revolves around the aching need of humans to feel they matter, that they have a place in the world."

Understanding the Process of Storytelling

"Storytelling is a process. A process that involves understanding the dramatic issue or idea at the heart of a story and arranging a story's elements to bring that issue to resolution in a way that offers the story's audience a dramatic experience of fulfillment."

Film & Story/Narrative

Dramatica: A New Theory of Story

Cinematic Narrative

Thinking About Stories

"Stories abound in all professions. Story principles have been found in the work of a wide range of professionals, including attorneys, historians, biographers, educators, psychiatrists, and journalists. Thus, story should not be seen as exclusively fictional but instead should merely be contrasted to other ways of assembling and understanding data." [Peter Orton, Thinking About Stories [website; no longer available]

Life Stories From Lost Worlds

"Autobiography is, by definition, always a story about something that has been and gone, something that is over. But the kind of autobiography I am drawing attention to has the special extra feature that there is a huge chasm between the world of the narration (the now of the telling) and the world of the other place, the lost home, which becomes super-charged with emotional and mythological energy precisely because it is the place of no return."

"I want to talk about a particular kind of autobiographical story-telling, that of people who have made a major and irreversible crossing from their own cultural world to one that is vastly different."

Life Stories and Telling Our Lives

The Power of the Stories We Tell

Personal Narratives and Life Stories

Telling Stories: Aging, Reminiscence, and Life Review

Finding Yourself Through Autobiography

Why Study People's Stories?

Life and Structure


A Turn to Narrative

"The past several decades have seen an explosion of interest in narrative, with this multifaceted object of inquiry becoming a central concern in a wide range of disciplinary fields and research contexts." [Routledge Encyclopedia Of Narrative Theory]

"In the past decade there has been a dramatic surge of interest in the concept of 'narrative.' Narrative has not only provided literary criticism, philosophical ethics, law, theology, and biblical studies with new tools for argument and interpretation, it has also provoked a radical rethinking of modern presuppositions about the nature of these areas of inquiry." [H. Jefferson Powell, Transparency, Opacity, and Openness in Narrative, 40 J. Legal Educ. 161 (1990)]

"[A] small revolution with potentially large consequences is occurring in our contemporary knowledge culture. . . . [A] protean reframing of the narrative concept is seeping and/or being appropriated into the central epistemological frameworks of a spectrum of other disciplines--including medicine, social psychology, anthropology, gender studies, law, biology, and physics." [Margaret R. Somers & Gloria D. Gibson, Reclaiming the Epistemological "Other": Narrative and the Social Constitution of Identity--in--Craig Calhoun (ed.), Social Theory and the Politics of Identity][on-line text]

"Narrative is no doubt one of the great academic travellers of the last forty years. As such, there is nothing exceptional or sensational in this mobility: narrative simply belongs to the same group of travellers as �culture,' �discourse,' �gender,' and many others. Epistemic ruptures obviously encourage such fast transformations of the scholarly vocabulary. Many of these overlapping re-evaluations have been categorized under the more or less hyperbolic title, �turn,' be it linguistic, cultural, rhetorical, constructivist, or narrative." [Matti Hyv�rinen, An Introduction to Narrative Travels]

On the "turn to narrative" in the disciplines, see:

The Enemies of Storytelling Down Through the Ages


Nor Commit a Social Science


"The argument can be made that all visual material has a story behind it regardless of its lack of descriptive subject matter . . . ." [Christina Vassallo, A Story Being Told]

Artificial Intelligence

Computational Narratology


"Composition instruction draws from narrative theory, which distinguishes between the story (the what) and the discourse (the how), and composition theory, which further addresses process, as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. The composing process and the terms narrator and audience are key elements in both." [Stella Thompson, Writing Theory Versus Narrative Theory in College Writing]


"The applications for narrative in an academic context are as varied as the stories themselves. Narrative enquiry gives permission to learners to tap into the tacit knowledge embedded in their experience as well as to learn from each other in the process. It also serves as a springboard for dialogue about the deeper issues of their professional discipline that may not be easily illuminated through other methods." [Alternative Modes of Teaching and Learning: Storytelling]


"People love to tell stories. When something scary, or funny, or out of the ordinary happens, we cannot wait to tell others about it. If it was really funny etc. we tell the story repeatedly, embellishing as we see fit, shortening or lengthening as the circumstances prescribe. When people are bad storytellers we tend not to pay as close attention to their stories; our minds drift, and we hope for a swift conclusion. We tend not to remember those stories as well as the ones that were carefully constructed and skillfully delivered. Storytelling is one of our primary forms of communication with other people. What I will argue in this paper is that reading, telling, and hearing well-constructed narratives are not just an idle pastime that we have created for entertainment purposes or even as a mere means of communication. Rather, I want to argue that there are epistemological benefits to reading, hearing, and telling well-constructed narratives." [Worth, Knowing Through Storytelling]

Narrative Making Sense

The Cognitive and Anthropological Origins of Narrative


Ethnographic Writing

Film Studies

Lawyers and Film


"Narrative history is the practice of writing history in a story-based form."

[Narrative History -- Wikipedia]

"He thought the future of narrative would be made, as the history of narrative had been made, by historians, thinking of themselves as writers, learning from writers, and writing, taking the same care as poets and novelists with their words and designs, perhaps also taking some of the same risks. . . . It would always be made by writers who trusted, and who could figure out how to fall into, and lose themselves in, stories." --James Goodman, For the Love of Stories, 26 (1) Reviews in American History 255, 268 (1998)

What History Is


Learning to Think Like a Storyteller

What is Narrative, Anyway? [pt.2]

Wait Before You Narrate

Overview: Aboard the Narrative Train

The Master Narrative in Journalism


"In most sociolinguistic studies of the speech community, narratives of personal experience play a prominent role." ~ William Labov, Ordinary Events

Uncovering the Event Structure of Narrative

Some Further Steps in Narrative Analysis

Narrative Models and Meaning

Dynamics in Narrative Structures


"If a literary text does something to its readers, it also simultaneously tells us something about them. Thus literature turns into a divining rod, locating our dispositions, desires, inclinations, and eventually our overall makeup. The question arises as to why we may need this particular medium . . ." [Wolfgang Iser, The Significance of Fictionalizing]


Negotiating Story Structures

Narrative Point of View--Wikipedia

Narrating Ethics

Management & Organization Studies

Imparting Knowledge through Storytelling

Organizational Storytelling, Ethics and Morality:
How Stories Frame Limits of Behavior in Organizations

The Storyteller as Leader

Narrative Leadership: Using the Power of Stories

Organizational Storytelling

Narrative Inquiry: Creating Leading Edges in OD

Using Narratives for Organisational Success

Storytelling in Organizations: Larry Prusak


"At first glance (and maybe the second one too), narrative and mathematics don't seem to be natural companions, but recent years have made the juxtaposition much more common." [John Allen Paulos, Math in Narratives]

The Mystery of the Black Knight’s Noetherian Ring
an investigation into the story-mathematics connection with a small detour through chess country


Narrative Medicine: Wikipedia

Stories in Medicine: Doctors-in-Training/A Different Type of Patient History
[NPR, Margot Adler, audio]

Doctors' Stories: For a Bellevue Physician, Listening--and Writing--Are Key
[NPR, Melissa Block, audio]

Story Specialists: Doctors Who Write by
[NRP, Lynn Neary, audio, 6:37 mins.]

The Healing Power of Stories

Doctor as Story-Listener and Storyteller

Stories for Life: Introduction to Narrative Medicine
[Miriam Divinsky]

Interpreting People as They Interpret Themselves: Narrative in Medical Anthropology and Family Medicine

From Narrative Wreckage to Islands of Clarity: Stories of Recovery from Psychosis

Narratives and Therapy

An Extraordinary Moment: The Healing Power of Stories

Literature and Medicine: Exploring Margaret Atwood’s Short Story “Death by Landscape”

A Series of Articles on Narrative Medicine
[LitSite Alaska, a website devoted to "Inspiring learning and building community through narrative"]

Login for the Following Articles Required--

Narrative Based Medicine in an Evidence Based World

A Narrative Approach to Mental Health in General Practice

Stories We Hear and Tell: Analyzing Talk in Clinical Practice

Autopathography: The Patient's Tale

Integrated Narrative and Evidence Based Case Report

Stories: A Reflective Narrative of Patient Based Medicine in General Practice


"Myths are stories, but not just any stories. They are stories of special symbolic significance. Myths are prototypical stories, concretising the really fundamental themes of human existence; involving archetypal characters and situations; expressing the really basic curiosities, hopes, fears, desires, conflicts, choices and patterns of resolution.  Myths are paradigmatic stories, ie, stories that are told and retold as shedding light on other stories, as linking past and present, as bringing the unknown into relation with known.  Myths are resonating narratives, embodying the distilled essence of human experience; giving symbolic answers to the most basic human questions, questions of origin and destiny; offering stylised solutions to the most basic human decisions; staking out the choices to be made at life's cross-roads.  Myths are normative narratives, setting out a society's history, legitimating its institutions, codes and values and envisioning its future development.  Myths are synthesising stories, capturing the zeitgeist of a time and place, bringing to a focus what forces are at work, highlighting its problems, and crystallising its values." [Helena Sheehan, Story, Myth, Dream and Drama]


Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative


European Narratology Network

Narrative Contestations

Hoodwinked by Aristotle: Narratological Reflection


"So, the first day of class we begin by asking them questions such as 'What is a narrative or story?' What are the basic elements of a story?" 'How would you apply the notion of a narrative or story to you?' We spend quite a bit of time talking about the story of our institution. We ask older students to tell particular stories they find especially interesting, maddening, or perplexing. At the end of the class period, the students have competently practiced philosophy as a narrative activity." [Anne-Marie Bowery, Questions As a Pedagogical Tool: A Narrative Approach to Philosophy]

Philosophy Stories for Teachers

Can Fiction Be Philosophy?

Biographical Lives

Narrative Identity

Getting the Story Straight: Kierkegaard, MacIntyre and Some Problems with Narrative

Paul Ricoeur and Narrative: Context and Contestation


Narrative and Persona in the Poetry of Robert Frost

Political Science

"[P]olitics is essentially a contest for meaning . . . telling a story is an elemental political act . . . ." [The Political Use of Racial Narratives -- comment on Ricard A. Pride's The Political Use of Racial Narratives]

Towards a Narrative Theory of Political Agency


"The study of stories people tell about their lives is no longer a promising new direction for the future of personality psychology. Instead, persolnal narratives and the life story have arrived.. In the first decade of the 21st century, narrative approaches to personality have moved to the center of the discipline." [Dan P. McAdams, "Personal Narratives and the Life Story," in John Robins (eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research 242-262 (New York: Wilford Press, 3rd ed., 2008)(on-line text)]

Internet Resources on Narrative Psychology: Annotated Guide

Narrative Psychology: Resources Guide

Narrative and Identity

Life as Fiction

Narrative in Post-Rationalist Cognitive Therapy

A Story Telling Psychology

Between Nosology & Narrative: Where Should We Be?

Narratives and Therapeutic Conversational Agents

Remythologizing Culture: Narrativity, Justification, and the Politics of Personalization

Narrative Therapy-Wikipedia


"[T]he client's narrative becomes the core of each therapy session. When a client tells a personal story, he or she gives special significance to certain events, which illuminates personal meanings. The therapist works collaboratively with the client to analyze the content and organization of these stories. As stories are told and retold over time, changes in the client's concerns, problems, and goals, which forms the basis for the therapeutic process." [from the cover, Hubert J.M. Hermans & Els Hermans-Jansen, Self-Narratives: The Construction of Meaning in Psychotherapy (New York: Guilford Press, 1995)]


Narrative Psychotherapy

A Turn to Narrative Therapy

Using Women's Narratives in Psychotherapy

Narrative Therapy

Transformative Narrative Therapy

Books About Therapeutic Storytelling

Research Methodology

"Narrative inquiry is the process of gathering information for the purpose of research through storytelling." [Narrative Inquiry -- Conducting Observational Research, Colorado State University]

Narrative as a Vehicle for Research

Redefining our Understanding of Narrative

Qualitative Research

The Turn to a Narrative Knowing of Persons

Analysis of Personal Narratives

Handbook of Narrative Inquiry


""The narrative turn in human inquiry has reached the social sciences and has created a situation I refer to as narrative's moment. This moment is a set of conditions and possibilities through which a genuine narrative sociology might be developed. Such a sociology would encompass the sociology of narratives, or the study of narratives from the standpoint of sociology's domain interests, and it would more inclusively and reflexively include sociology's narratives, viewing sociologists as narrators and thereby inquiring into what they do to and with their's and other peoples narratives." [David R. Maines, Narratives Moment and Sociology's Phenomena: Toward a Narrative Sociology, 34 (1) Sociological Quarterly 17 (1993)]

Sociological Narratives
[a course taught by Stephen Pfohl, Professor of Sociology, Boston College. "[A course that investigates] the structure of sociological thought and writing as an historically situated form of literary practice or story-telling."]

A Sociology of Storytelling

Narrative and the Social Construction of Identity

Narrative Foundations of Knowing: Towards a New Perspective in the Sociology of Knowledge


"Practically every theological discipline has seen some proposal for the use of narrative as a means for rethinking the nature, method, and tasks of that discipline." [George Stroup, Theology of Narrative or Narrative Theology?: A Response to Why Narrative?]

Religion and Narrative

A Feminist Methodology for Narrative Theology and Ethics

Narrative Theology: Wikipedia

Discerning the Story Structures In the Narrative Literature of the Bible

God and the Space of Civic Discourse


Academic Journals

Narrative Inquiry


Center for Studies in Oral Tradition

National Storytelling Network

Society for Storytelling

Storytelling Web Resources


Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory