Storytelling for Lawyers by Meyer Philip

Storytelling for Lawyers by Meyer Philip

Author:Meyer, Philip [Meyer, Philip]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Published: 2014-01-30T05:00:00+00:00

II. Preliminary Note: “Voice” and “Style”

As Henry Miller observed, what one has to tell may not ultimately be as important as the telling itself. The two are clearly intertwined in all types of storytelling practice, including legal storytelling. The telling itself is embodied in the “style” or “voice” of the storyteller.

To illustrate, in an oral trial or appellate argument, the audience typically listens closely to, and is persuaded by, the literal voice or persona of the attorney-storyteller; it is profoundly important, yet seldom discussed or analyzed as a persuasive tool. Here, however, when analyzing voice I refer to something more than just the “sound” of the voice; legal storytelling voice is composed of instrumental stylistic choices, carefully selected in relation to the material of the story, fitted to the narrative’s plot and characters. In many ways it is akin to the voice of a popular singer interpreting a song, the lyrics and melody shaping inflection, modulation, and phrasing. Likewise, the legal story affects voice, influencing choices made from a repertoire of alternative stylistic possibilities. This is true in both oral and written storytelling practices; the qualities of voice are deeply related to other aspects of the narrative.

For example, the audience for Spence’s closing argument in Silkwood is captured by the power and confidence of Spence’s literal voice; there is deliberateness, pacing, and confidence in his rhythmic yet theatrical delivery. It is through Spence’s voice and presentational style that Spence elevates a simple and not atypical torts melodrama (the story of the heroic “prophet” sacrificed to the greedy corporate Beast’s hunger for profits). Spence employs his voice and presentation, reshaping the material into a story with almost biblical dimensions. Spence’s closing argument in Silkwood presents a homiletic or teaching story with a moral message about what happens when corporate greed and hunger (The Beast in the free market) goes unchecked and unregulated and devours and destroys a rural community as well as the young workers and innocents within it. Spence’s voice and his presentational style are intentionally magisterial, signaling carefully that this is an important story capturing a crucial historical moment.

Spence’s story, like most torts stories, is fundamentally a simple melodrama. And Spence’s Silkwood character is a simple hero without the depth of character of, for example, a complex tragic hero. Indeed, attempting to transform Silkwood’s story into the genre of tragedy by adding another dimension to Karen Silkwood as protagonist would diminish the story’s persuasive power. There are, nevertheless, clearly tragic victims in Spence’s story: the young workers who, Spence argues, will suffer horrible struggles with cancer if the jury does not intervene heroically to give Silkwood’s life meaning by speaking the only language the Beast corporation understands, the language of money.

It is a presentational style and voice that Spence marries intentionally to his theme and story. Spence’s voice is appropriately respectful, reverential, and lawyer-like. Spence chooses a third-person omniscient perspective for telling most of his story. Spence strategically employs edited audiotapes, however, to shift purposefully from the third-person omniscient


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