Storytelling Across the Curriculum: From Margin to Center, from Clinic to the Classroom
30 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2009 Last revised: 13 Dec 2012
Date Written: September 5, 2009
Narrative theory and storytelling have emerged as threads in legal scholarship steadily over the past 20 years. Beginning in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the 'Legal Storytelling' movement sought to acknowledge and include the voices of 'outsiders' in legal scholarship and dialogue. More recently, the 'Applied Legal Storytelling' movement has emerged as scholars encourage each other to use storytelling to enhance their understanding of particular skills lawyers practice, and how to improve those skills. Scholars in the 'Law and Literature' movement explore the uses of literature to help lawyers stay connected to their imaginations, to their creativity, and to their humanity. Each of these scholarly movements has led to, or grown out of, professors’ experiments with using particular kinds of narrative theory and storytelling as part of their pedagogy.
In clinical teaching and scholarship, storytelling has always assumed pride of place for all of these reasons: to help students hear and incorporate the voices of 'outsiders' as they engage in and practice various lawyering skills, and to challenge them to think creatively and compassionately about their case strategy and practice. Lucie White’s 'Sunday Shoes' piece and Binny Miller’s 'Give Them Back Their Lives' are just two examples of narrative theory and storytelling practice that many clinical teachers use either explicitly or behind the scenes in their supervision or seminar teaching.
I believe narrative theory and storytelling can be used even more fundamentally, cutting across types of courses and types of lawyering. I teach skills, doctrinal and clinical courses, and I use narrative theory and storytelling in all three, all with the same goal: to help students recognize that as lawyers, they are not only hearers and tellers of stories, but also, and perhaps most important, constructors of stories. And that, simply put, is what I mean by narrative theory. The practice of storytelling is the craft of constructing stories, based on choices made with intention and reflection by the lawyer and her client. A pedagogy that relies on this theory and practice leads students to realize that The Law itself is a set of stories that have been adopted by decisionmakers, and that those stories have been constructed by none other than lawyers, just like themselves.
My particular pedagogy relies on an exploration of both narrative theory and the practice of storytelling. Most, if not all, of my classes - regardless of their official content - involve discussions about what stories are and what makes them 'good' (persuasive, compelling), both substantively (the 'what' of the story) and technically (the 'how' of the story). That’s the narrative theory. In addition, my students spend a lot of time constructing and deconstructing stories, focusing on their elements - both the 'what' and the 'how' - and on the choices that resulted in the story’s substance and structure. That’s the storytelling practice.
In this piece, I develop the idea of using storytelling across the curriculum to teach students this kind of critical thinking and reflection about their role as lawyers. In Part One, I describe the importance of storytelling and stories in the craft of lawyering. Part Two reviews briefly how clinical and non-clinical teachers use storytelling in their teaching. The bulk of the piece - Part Three - is a description and analysis of my own teaching and how it achieves the goal of developing students’ critical thinking skills and reflective practice. I provide concrete examples of my teaching, as well as critique and analysis based on narrative and lawyering theory scholarship.
The piece concludes with the suggestion that narrative theory and storytelling as a pedagogy used systematically across individual courses and the curriculum has the potential to transform a student’s experience of law school, resulting in her development as an empowered, reflective, and socially responsible member of the legal profession, regardless of the kind of law she practices or the kinds of clients she represents.
Keywords: narrative, storytelling, teaching, skills, clinic
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation