Change is influenced by, and reflected in, the stories we tell…
Jonathan Shapiro at page 225 of the ABA Paperback Edition published in 2016
After practicing law as a prosecutor for ten years and subsequently writing and producing legal dramas including The Practice and Boston Legal, Jonathan Shapiro is well situated to provide insight into the elements of storytelling as they relate to both criminal practice and the writing of fiction.
He encourages lawyers to recognize that storytelling permeates the practice of criminal law.
There is, of course, a clear distinction between the writer, as an entertainer, and the writer, as a lawyer. As stated by Mr. Shapiro at page 126: “… lawyers are more limited by the story elements they are given. We cannot make things up out of thin air; we must win with what we have”. That being said, within the framework of the client's background and recollections, counsel can draw upon the elements of storytelling to present a persuasive and compelling narrative.
Through a series of tales from the courtroom and the writer’s room, Mr. Shapiro illustrates Aristotle’s three elements of the art of persuasive storytelling:
1) Ethos (encouraging us to consider elements of presentation, character and credibility);
2) Logos (encouraging us to consider elements of logic and reason); and
3) Pathos (encouraging us to consider elements of emotion).
While legal decision-making is most heavily grounded in logic and reason, it is important not to turn a blind eye to the other two elements of ethical persuasion. For example, consider the impact of a compelling emotional narrative as to why a particular punishment is the ‘right’ sentence among a range of legally justifiable choices.
Among other topics, Mr. Shapiro also compels us to consider the impact of legal dramas on the public’s understanding and expectations of the criminal justice process. Criminal counsel must often confront a client’s misconceptions as a result of exposure to television and film where the fundamental goal is to entertain with full dramatic license.
For anyone interested in giving greater thought to his or her role as a storyteller while peeking behind the curtain of popular legal dramas, Mr. Shapiro’s book is well worth your time.