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Use Storytelling Techniques to Make Your Briefs More Persuasive

You’ve undoubtedly had the experience of reading a book that’s so compelling you can’t put it down. You can make your briefs more compelling—and therefore more persuasive—to the judges and law clerks who read them by applying in your briefs the same storytelling techniques used by creative writers.

In fiction, stories have three primary elements: character, conflict, and resolution. The story you tell in your brief will have characters and conflict: the court’s ruling provides the resolution. Your goal is to tell the story so that the resolution will be almost self-evident.

In briefs, you tell your client’s story in the statement of facts. You can make your statement of facts compelling by carefully selecting the details you want to call to the reader’s attention, arranging the details in a maximally effective way, and using evocative language.

Carefully selecting the details doesn’t mean presenting only the facts that favor your client’s position. Just the opposite is true: you’ll lose credibility if you omit relevant facts from your brief, and the court will give little credence to your legal argument. Nevertheless, as lawyers familiar with appellate brief-writing know, even in a self-contained universe where all facts are established and equally available to both parties, the appellant’s statement of facts and the respondent’s are often quite different.

Arranging the details in a maximally effective way means giving the story of the case a narrative flow. The classic three-part structure of a story moves from order, to disorder/chaos, to re-order. In brief writing, this structure corresponds to introducing the characters (particularly your client); describing the conflict and its effect on your client; and setting forth the resolution for which you are advocating.

Using evocative language doesn’t mean hitting the reader over the head with bombastic, overblown rhetoric, in either your marketing materials or your briefs. Sophisticated potential clients will tune you out if your prose is larded with adjectives and exclamation points (both literal and figurative). Judges, too, will reject any overt attempt to appeal to their emotions.

Finally, remember that sensational, inflammatory language tends to arouse skepticism and reduce your credibility. Instead, use vivid words (including powerful verbs) and “show, don’t tell”: set forth the facts, and let the reader come to an independent (but subtly guided) conclusion about their import.

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