November 2014 Bar Bulletin
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November 2014 Bar Bulletin

Shakespeare Just Wrote Your Opening

By Daniel W. Dugan


"I was driving down the highway and happened to hear the country music artist Chuck Wicks singing 'Stealing Cinderella' - a song about a little girl growing up to leave her father behind. Before I knew it, I was blind from tears, and I had to veer off on the road to get control of myself and to mourn the time - still more than a decade off - when my own little girls would fly the nest. I sat there on the side of the road feeling sheepish and wondering, 'What just happened?'

"Who hasn't had a similar experience? When we submit to fiction - whether in novels, songs or films - we allow ourselves to be invaded by storytellers who seize control of us cognitively and emotionally."1

Exactly - "storytellers who seize control of us cognitively and emotionally." Is there any better description of a trial attorney giving a great opening?

Now, right off the bat, some of you attorneys reading this are already saying, "I'm not telling stories! I am describing facts for the jury to [hopefully] see my way. 'Stories' means this is a lie." There are four reasons why this kind of thinking is incorrect:

1. Jurors do not equate the word "story" with "lie." Just think for a minute - why would defense attorneys say, "There are two sides to every story," if the word "story" meant "lie?" Somehow it seems fine for the defense to use this word, but not the plaintiff. How can that be?

2. Simply using the word "story" establishes you as the speaker, the one to pay attention to in the room. There is good research to back this up. We are taught from early on that when a parent or teacher says they are going to tell us a story, we are supposed to perk up and listen. "Story" is a strong linguistic marker.

3. There may be a biological, or at the least a deeply held psychological, reason that we respond well to stories. Stories have a capacity to pass along vital information, so vital that our very survival might have once depended on them. For instance, in pre-verbal language times, cave drawings communicated where food could be found and described the techniques for obtaining it.

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