Telling a Story (Essay #1)

Bench & Bar (Kentucky), Vol. 66, No. 4, July 2002

2 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2006

See all articles by Richard A. Bales

Richard A. Bales

Ohio Northern University - Pettit College of Law


A short while back, I collected the most common marginal notes I was making to student seminar papers and used them as the basis of a series of essays about legal writing. My goal was to provide a short-yet-comprehensive, entertaining explanation of particular legal writing skills that I could tailor to each individual student. Now, instead of writing a lengthy marginal notation on (for example) the over-use of the passive voice, I simply circle several examples in the student's paper and clip to the paper a copy of my essay. Students readily make the connection between the applicable legal writing skill and their own work, and I am able to much more efficiently and comprehensively explain not only the "hows" but also the "whys" and "what ifs."

This first essay is about legal storytelling. It first discusses the elements of a good story: character, conflict, resolution, and organization. It then describes why storytelling is important for legal persuasion, discussing jury trials (which should tell a sympathetic story about the client), motions (which should remind the judge of the story of the underlying suit, but also should tell a story of what the motion is requesting), and case descriptions in motions and legal memoranda. The essay has proven most useful for students who have difficulty with case descriptions. The essay describes the importance of (1) using an introductory sentence to identify the case name, court, and what the case stands for in; (2) introducing the relevant characters; (3) describing the facts and posture in chronological order; (4) identifying the disputed issue of law as the story's conflict; and (5) identifying the holding as the story's resolution.

Every motion and case tells a story. Only one party, however, is likely to be happy with the ending. The lawyer's job is to tell a story that "fits" the desired ending, so it's that lawyer's client whose ending is happy.

Keywords: legal writing, story, case description, persuasion

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Bales, Richard A., Telling a Story (Essay #1). Bench & Bar (Kentucky), Vol. 66, No. 4, July 2002. Available at SSRN:

Richard A. Bales (Contact Author)

Ohio Northern University - Pettit College of Law ( email )

525 South Main Street
Ada, OH 45810
United States
419-772-2205 (Phone)


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