Appellate Brief-Writing 101: "Every Lawsuit is a Story" (The Bryan Garner Interviews II)


"God created man because he loved to hear stories," goes an Ethiopian proverb.

You might think that narrative has little or nothing to do with writing a good brief. But as Professor James Boyd White reminds us, "The law always begins in a story . . . It ends in a story, too." Chief Justice Roberts tells Bryan Garner in the LawProse interviews that story-telling is central to writing a compelling statement of facts:

It's got to be a good story. Every lawsuit is a story . . . I don't care if it's about a dry contract interpretation; you've got two people who want to accomplish something, and they're coming together -- that's a story. And you've got to tell a good story . . . you want it to be a little bit of a page-turner, to have some sense of drama, some building up to the legal arguments.

People are natural story-tellers; stories are an innate way for us to order and interpret all of human experience. As Barbara Tuchman wrote, "narrative is the life-blood of history." Telling a story in your brief that fits an established paradigm gives the result you want an internal consistency -- any necessary inferences you're asking the judge to make will seem reasonable. If you frame your story well, your desired result will have the virtues of fidelity -- stories the decision maker knows to be true -- and ideals -- consistency with what the decision maker wants to be true. Tapping into stock stories and myths, like Joseph Campbell's archetypal stories, is a powerful tool of persuasion.

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