By Hon. (Ret.) Ken E. Adair
Do Not Be Afraid to Tell the Story
Video Transcribed: When I was a little kid growing up in the ’60s, sometimes there’d be a cartoon and it might be Underdog or it might be Mighty Mouse or it might be some weird off the wall cartoon where some guy with a big black top hat, a big mustache, and what that sinister laugh comes entering into the picture, or it might be a black and white film and they freeze-frame it and then they have the word villain and an arrow pointing.
And then the audience boos. And then another one might point and say, “Damsel in distress.” Well, that’s silly because we don’t need to see arrows pointing to people saying who the villain, who the good guy is, who the reluctant hero is. We don’t need that. And what’s the last time you went to watch a video when people stood out in the hallway debating on who the good guy or bad guy was?
And it does happen in rare cases where that’s the purpose of the film, but most of the time, a good story tells itself. The first thing is, don’t be afraid of the word story. Don’t become flinchy to the word story. We think when we hear the word story that that means some fib or some fabricated story, fiction story. All great truths, all great, real stories are still stories.
So desensitize yourself to the word story, desensitize the jury to the word story, and just remember that every good story tells itself. When you find yourself constantly reiterating a fact that you want the jury to hear over and over. You want to drive point the home that somebody is a villain, but you want to drive home a point that somebody was the good guy with a good girl, you’re wasting the jury’s time.
As a judge for nine years, every time I did a jury trial, I spent five, 10 minutes alone with a jury. Never discussed the merits of the case, but I want to ask them pretty much the following questions. Compared to what you thought it would be, how significant did you find this process?
And almost universally, they all thought it was substantially more significant than they had thought it would be before. What could I do to make the process better?
What could the lawyers do to make the process better? And every jury said the same thing, I wish the lawyers would quit asking the same questions over and over again. It makes us feel like we’re stupid. And I would tell them universally, “Well, it’s because the lawyers want to make sure you hear it and they’re trying to drive a point home.”
Well, think of it like telling a story. When you tell a story or you watch a movie, you know who the bad guy is pretty much right away. Sometimes there’s an O. Henry twist at the end of the movie. But don’t shy away from the word story and make sure you just tell the story.
If the jury can’t figure out who the villain is and who the good guy is if they don’t want to be part of the happily ever after at the end of the story by giving your client justice, well, then maybe it’s just not a good story, or maybe you haven’t fleshed out the real truth to the story.
So I would highly recommend that you just tell the story. Let the story tell itself. Just put the scenes out there, but the evidence out there without getting bogged down in minutia, that’s a subject for another day, but just tell the story.
And don’t be afraid to tell the story. And don’t be so crass as to not judge or not trust the jury to judge the facts fairly. The villain is going to stand out. The good guy’s going to stand out. The reluctant hero is going to stand out.
And if the story tells itself without you trying to pounder around peg into a square hole, the jury is going to see it and the jury is going to be a part of the happily ever after for your client’s story. Thank you. I hope this video has been helpful. This is Trial Attorney, Ken Adair. If You are looking for First and Second Chair Co-Counsel, Focus Groups & Mock Jury Trial Sociometrics, Jury Trial Preparation Services, visit trial-win.com