Gerry Spence & the Art of Advocacy

Professor James R. Elkins College of Law | West Virginia University






"Discovering the Story," in Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 85-101 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)

"If we are to be successful in presenting our case we must not only discover its story; we must become good storytellers as well. Every trial, every . . . argument for justice is a story." [Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 86 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)]["I always present my case as a story." Id. at 111]

"There seems to be little dispute among trial lawyers and trial advocacy teachers that the essence of the trial is storytelling . . . ." [Dana K. Cole, Psychodrama and the Training of Trial Lawyers: Finding the Story, 21 N. Ill. U.L. Rev. 1, 2 (2001)]

"The best trial lawyers act like teachers . . . . They tell stories. Juries process facts by storytelling. Storytelling makes ideas stick. . . . [L]awyers should estabish clean story lines and leave out needless details, places, dates, and history. Specific rather than vague or general words increase the impact of ideas. Before the trial, lawyers should create a storyboard with important facts in chronological order and themes to tell the story during trial. Action is critical to a good story. This is why trail lawyers should focus on the people, not on the problem." [Gerald Lebovits, Trial Advocacy: How to Persuade Judge and Jury, 72 Queens Bar Bulletin 10 (Jan., 2009)] [on-line text]

"Jury trials are storytelling contests. Lawyers reach for drama, metaphor, voice, gesture, persona, myth, and other expressive resources of the storyteller's art to give authority to their accounts. The need to perform arises from the American commitment–highly unusual among the world's societies–to trial by jury. Professional judges would not be receptive to the craft's method of telling stories. Lay jurors are." [Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer’s Art 210 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)]

"Of course it is all story telling–nothing more. It is the experience of the tribe around the fire, the primordial genes excited, listening–the old warrior, his voice alive, rising with the flames, now whispering away, hinting at the secret–the shivers racing up your back to the place where the scalp is made, and then the breathless climax, and the sadness and the tears with the dying of the embers, and the silence.

. . . [L] awyers must be storytellers. That is what the art of advocacy comes down to–the telling of the true story of one's case." [Gerry Spence, How to Make a Complex Case Come Alive for a Jury, 72 A.B.A. J. 62, 63, 64 (1986)][Spence makes the points till more directly: "Give me the story–please, the story." Id. at 65]

["When Gerry Spence calls the jury trial 'the experience of the tribe around the fire,' he summons a primordial image of performance. Trials, beneath their fact-finding function, are collective rituals. . . . The lawyer's part is to perform a story that gives jurors a convincing account of their shared circumstances, their unvoiced dreads, their evocable faith." Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer’s Art 10 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)]

"In every jury trial the attorneys construct rival stories from testimony and evidence whose meaning is unclear. A trial is a competition over the framing of this ambiguous material: how should the jury interpret the testimony and evidence? And it is also a competition over the authority of the lawyers: whose account of the meaning of this material deserves to be believed." [ Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer’s Art 11 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)]

The problem is that "most lawyers are simply not good storytellers." [Dana K. Cole, Psychodrama and the Training of Trial Lawyers: Finding the Story, 21 N. Ill. U.L. Rev. 1, 3 (2001)] [Gerry Spence puts the problem still more bluntly: "[L]awyers are not trained as dramatists or storytellers, nor are they encouraged to become candid, caring, and compassionate human beings. Most could not tell us the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in any compelling way. We would be fast asleep by the time they got to the first bowl of porridge." Gerry Spence, O.J., The Last Word 113 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997)]

"To follow them ['American trials, American stories'] as performances is to chart intensely fraught dynamics of symbolic communication with American audiences. The search leads far beyond the legal arena, since what lawyers try to achieve with juries is indebted to–and sheds light on–the ways in which Americans grapple with truth in daily life." [Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer’s Art 13 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)]["The need for stories in court is akin to our need for stories in other spheres." Id. at 16]

"Good stories have heroes and villains." [Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 131 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)]["Heroes have a role. Their role is to be admired, even loved. Villains have a role. Theirs is to be rejected, even hated. Most drama is couched in this simple formula. If we do not care about the hero or do not wish all manner of evil to befall the villain, we have no dram and, in court, we have no case." Id. at 165]

"Everything in life is a story. Everything. We are born–which is a story–and we die, the end of that story and perhaps the beginning of another. Our life in between was a story, a book, in fact, every day a page of the story." [Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 85 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005)]["In our hearts we all love to hear and to tell a good story. Stories, well told, are the engines by which we win." Id. at 111]

"I like to tell stories, to think in pictures, to have a good time with the images . . . ." [Gerry Spence, O.J., the Last Word 48 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997)]

"A key task for the lawyer--it's an overarching concern in dramatic art--is to fit actions together in a convincing whole. There's a story to tell the jury: evidence has to be selectively turned into a believable plot. The presentation of this story also has to be plotted, because the way it unfolds affects how it's received." [Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer’s Art 29 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)]

Trial Lawyer Storytelling: Videos

The Art of Storytelling
[Jim Perdue, author of Winning With Stories: Using the Narrative to Persuade in Trials, Speeches & Lectures (State Bar of Texas, 2006)]

Storytelling for Lawyers: Useful Things Lawyers Can Learn from Fiction

Sharing Stories with a Jury: The Tap and Transport Technique

Storytelling and Emotional Reasoning
[Professor Charles H. Rose]

Storytelling, Persuasion, Narrative
[Professor Charles H. Rose]

Trial Lawyers & Storytelling

The Importance of Storytelling
[Jim Purdue, "Ten Minute Mentor," Texas BarCLE][audio file]

Elements of Storytelling

Storytelling Throughout Trial: Increasing Your Persuasive Powers
[ Murray Ogburn, Trial]

Telling Your Client's Story
[Alan Blumenfeld, Trial]

Storytelling to Inspire Law Students
Professor Lawrence Dubin, University of Detroit]

Use a Persuasive Story Structure
[Cliff Atkinson, Trial]

Practical Jury Dynamics
[about Sunwolf, the lawyer's lawyer who 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.'"] [The Sunwolf book with the unfriendly price of $149, may go on my 'read in the library' list. For those with a deep pocket, you might want to browse Sunwolf's DVD, Jury Talk; it's priced by LexisNexis at $230. At that price, it's a hit on my conscience to even think about having my library order it!][About Sunwolf]

Psychodrama and Trial Lawyering

See: "Discovering the Story Through Psychodrama," in Gerry Spence, Win Your Case 102-111 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2005). Psychodrama is a fundamental tool/technique/method used at Spence's Trial Lawyer's College. He says, "the first days," at Trial Lawyer's College, use psychodrama as a group process "for the purpose of gaining an understanding of the self . . . ." Id. at 13.

Psychodrama and Trial Lawyering
[Katlin Larimer, Trial]

Legal Storytelling and Narrative Jurisprudence: Web Resources

A Survey of Websites
[compiled by Professor Elkins for "Lawyers and Literature"]


Jim M. Perdue, Winning With Stories: Using the Narrative to Persuade in Trials, Speeches & Lectures (State Bar of Texas, 2006)

Eric Oliver, Facts Can't Speak for Themselves: Reveal the Stories That Give Facts Their Meaning (Notre Dame, Indiana: National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2005)

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