The Legal Advocate

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Fifty Shades of Advocacy

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I admit it. I was hoping I would draw you in with the title of this post. I toyed with how I could tie the popular book, Fifty Shades of Grey, into an article on advocacy. The more I considered it the more I recognized there probably was nothing I could truly connect. Then I realized the connection was the error that many lawyers make when stretching to put a theme to their case.

So much of the current literature on trials talks about telling a story. The literature is right. Trials should tell your client’s story, explain the wrong that was done, and suggest how to make things right. That is not always easy.

Cases where there is real human suffering offer vehicles that pull on sympathies and offer obvious means to ease the pain. But not every case provides facts that make for these well-crafted case stories. Putting the sizzle into a dispute between two large corporations that will keep the attention of a jury may take creativity. Turning thousands of exhibits into must-read story details can challenge anyone faced with these types of cases.

This post will not attempt to teach you how to create an engaging case story. There are books that do a far better job in far more space than we can devote in this short piece. For those who have not studied any of these texts, I recommend you review one or two of your own selected choices.

What I do hope to impart is the avoidance of shortcuts that employ another’s story, parable, or allegory.  Why? Why shouldn’t someone take a popular story and adapt it to their client’s case? Perhaps the most simplistic answer is because every case is unique and your client’s story deserves to stand on its own. More importantly, the facts of your case do tell a story and should show how your client has been injured. Even if the client is a huge corporation there are individuals involved who can humanize the events and turn paper damages into real injury.  By sharing actual facts in a story the jury can relate to common experiences. An actual story humanizes your client and builds your credibility.

Perhaps the most important reason to not rely upon the ideas of others is that your opponent is most likely as clever as you. The story you bend to fit your case can also be turned on you. There is almost nothing worse than having your words turned back on yourself. Telling the true story of what happened to your client is the most direct way of preventing words being turned around.

When it comes to trials – tell your own story.


We invite you to comment below with your thoughts on this post.

About Mark S. Caldwell

Mark S. Caldwell is NITA's Director for Specialty Programs. In this role Mr. Caldwell designs, administers and serves as an instructor for programs in bankruptcy litigation, child advocacy, and tax litigation. Other programs included under the Specialty Programs banner include NITA's work with other organizations for co-sponsored programs and many of NITA's pro bono courses. His role in NITA's pro bono efforts includes serving as Program Director for many of NITA's courses for lawyers and advocates who represent under-served communities, including Native American lay advocates, legal services lawyers, lawyers and advocates who represent those living with disabilities and the elderly, lawyers and advocates who appear in cases involving children, and lawyers who work in public service positions. In addition to his involvement in these courses, Mr. Caldwell also serves as NITA's Program Director for the Basic Trial Skills and Deposition Programs in Colorado. He is also an instructor at many of NITA's Teacher Training Programs.

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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