Mise en Scène and the Decisive Moment of Visual Legal Rhetoric

73 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2019 Last revised: 15 Jan 2020

See all articles by Michael D. Murray

Michael D. Murray

University of Kentucky, J. David Rosenberg College of Law

Date Written: January 24, 2019


This article explores the attorney author’s understanding and implementation of principles that define how visual rhetorical works fulfill the task of effective visual communication and advocacy. These principles — referred to as mise en scène — will guide the attorney author in the identification or creation of works that will exhibit the “decisive moment” of effective visual rhetoric in legal contexts. In equal measure, knowledge and understanding of these principles will enable litigators to design and use effective visuals, and to challenge or respond to the visual rhetorical works proffered by their opponents.

The article displays and analyzes a series of works of visual rhetoric and critiques the power and potential effectiveness of the image for the communication of the message or argument of the author. The goal of an attorney’s effort should be to choose or create images that show the decisive moment of the client’s narrative or the point of argument that the image is to communicate. This article will guide attorney authors in setting the stage for effective visual legal rhetoric.


I. The Context: Visual Legal Rhetoric and Narrativity

A. Speed and Power of Visual Works
B. The audience’s role in visual communication
C. Narrative and Applied Legal Storytelling

II. Mise en Scène Principles

A. The Dominant
B. Lighting
C. Color vs. Black and White
D. Point of View and Perspective
E. Composition and Framing, including the arrangement of subjects, the Gestalt theory, and the figure-ground relationship

1. The Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratios
2. The Rule of Odds
3. Filling the Frame without Overcrowding
4. Gestalt Theory and the Figure-Ground Relationship

F. Staged vs. Unstaged Photographs and Video
G. Altered and Manipulated Images

1. Editing and Cropping
2. Modification, concealing, or erasing of content

III. Confronting Visual Legal Rhetoric

IV. Conclusion

Keywords: Visual Rhetoric, Narrativity, Storytelling, Applied Legal Storytelling, Visual Legal Rhetoric, Visual Communication

JEL Classification: K1, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Murray, Michael D., Mise en Scène and the Decisive Moment of Visual Legal Rhetoric (January 24, 2019). Kansas Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp. 241-313 (2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3325423 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3325423

Michael D. Murray (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky, J. David Rosenberg College of Law ( email )

620 S. Limestone Street
Lexington, KY 40506-0048
United States
219-299-9777 (Phone)
859-323-1061 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://law.uky.edu/directory/michael-murray

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