Why a Jury Trial is More Like a Movie than a Novel

Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2001

14 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2011


This essay is concerned to note the way in which successful trial advocacy seems to stem from the ability to convert legal discourse into story form. Many have perceived that trial practice requires the ability to marry the analytical work of law school, and convert legal rules into the infrastructure for effective narrative-based storytelling. Moreover, the narratives constructed at trial exist among a wide range of other popular cultural narrative practices. These stories need to be ones with which a jury is familiar. These increasingly come from visual media, particularly film. Indeed, this essay attempts to show why storytelling at trial is more informed substantively and stylistically by the filmic counterparts rather than more literary models. It looks in detail at one trial where this process of relating a defense to jury employed the structure of a Mafia film. The essay concludes by examining the reasons why the nature of the novel differs significantly from that of the film and how in the novel-to-film adaptation process a certain simplification is bound to occur.

Keywords: litigation, advocacy, narrative, popular culture, jury, persuasion, film, literature, novel-to-film adaptation

Suggested Citation

Meyer, Philip N., Why a Jury Trial is More Like a Movie than a Novel. Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2001, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1794005

Philip N. Meyer (Contact Author)

Vermont Law School ( email )

68 North Windsor Street
P.O. Box 60
South Royalton, VT 05068
United States

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