Legal Storytelling: A Review of Twelve Heroes One Voice

Twelve Heroes - Legal Storytelling

Twelve Heroes, One Voice Reviewed in Utah Trial Journal

Reviewed by Brandon J. Baxter, Esq. in the Utah Trial Journal

In the studio, pop artists may ask themselves if they want to simply record a "song" or if they want a "hit." As trial attorneys, the question is do we want a "verdict" or do we want a "Verdict" (with a "capital V").

Carl Bettinger, the author of Twelve Heroes, One Voice: Guiding Jurors to Courageous Verdicts is a trial attorney from Albuquerque, NM who certainly has some Verdicts to his name. In a 2007 trial against a nursing home, the jury awarded Bettinger’s client $54 million. After a 2009 trial against a group home, the jury came back with a $54.1 million for Bettinger’s client. When a trial attorney with these results speaks, it certainly justifies sitting up and listening — that is if you are interested in Verdicts.

In Twelve Heroes, Bettinger undertakes the herculean task of a outlining and illustrating a "unified theory" of trial work. That he accomplishes his goal in a relatively brief 169 pages is a heroic achievement in and of itself. In setting out his theory, Bettinger attempts to harmonize recent jury psychology research and specific techniques from contemporary plaintiff’s guides such as Rules of the RoadReptile, and Polarizing the Case. To this mix he adds a heavy dose of jury empowerment ideals that can be found in Moe Levine’s historical lectures and practice. This array of ideas is organized within a framework of story-telling theory to which Bettinger adds a final overlay of pyschodrama practice.

Bettinger’s thesis is that for jurors to return a Verdict, the jurors must not be left to act on fear alone, but must also make their decision with a sense of the "sublime." In Bettinger’s words, the work of a trial attorney is to: "[E]mpower jurors to save the day, and thereby become heroes." While Bettinger’s goals are lofty, his primary tool is the simple story.

Twelve Heroes argues that all humans—including jurors—are "wired" to use stories to make sense of the world around them. But to effectively appeal to jurors’ story sense, attorneys must first understand story structure itself. To that end, Twelve Heroes elucidates the most fundamental components of story such as: heroic story structure and classic story characters and elements like the Hero, the Villain, the Victim, the Mentor, and the Lie. In illustrating story structure and characters, Bettinger cites to readily understandable examples from books and movies such as The Hobbit and Star Wars.

Rather than exclusively focusing on the plaintiff’s story, Twelve Heroes holds that Verdicts come only when the jury and the trial attorneys actually become part of the larger heroic story of the case. And what part must the jury play in this story? The Hero. Because at trial, only the jury has the power to save the day. And what part does that leave for the trial attorney in the case story? The Mentor — who Bettinger describes as an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure who provides the hero with the tools that will be needed to save the day. Twelve Heroes pays special attention to voir dire as the critical means of developing a successful Hero-Mentor relationship. While trial attorneys have long been interested in the concepts of jury empowerment and attorney-juror rapport, Bettinger’s take on these topics provides a fresh and powerful new frame of reference.

Throughout, Bettinger teaches the reader the differences between Thugs and Villains and which characteristics best identify the Villain for the jury. He emphasizes the need for the jury to come face-to-face with the Lie which is at the center of every Villain’s defense. Bettinger encourages trial attorneys to treat their trial like a director treats a movie, with an eye toward character development, scene presentation, cuts, and juxtaposition. Rather than hiding weaknesses in a case story, Bettinger sees these flaws as opportunities to add tension to the overall dramatic presentation. As an attorney, Bettinger shows how to accomplish these dramatic effects through opening, closing, direct, and cross-examination. In the end, Bettinger’s goal is to create a story frame which does not allow for compromise. Bettinger asserts that jurors will transcend their ordinary backgrounds, if properly mentored during trial, and become Heroes who exercise their power to return a verdict which will save the day and do justice.

In the end, many of the ideas of Twelve Heroes can be found elsewhere. However, it is Bettinger’s synthesis of these ideas, his analysis, and his illustration of these principles using many examples from his own trials that makes Twelve Heroes compelling, useful, and entertaining. Certainly no one can argue with the almost mythic manner in which juries have responded to Bettinger’s invitations. In the end, for any attorney interested in sublime Verdicts, it is a book worth reading.

Brandon J. Baxter, Esq. is partner at the firm of Peck, Hadfield, Baxter & Moore, LLC, in Logan, Utah. Brandon represents individuals and families who have been harmed because of the negligent, careless, and intentional acts of companies and other individuals. Brandon specializes in trial work for his injured clients, as well as trying cases for clients who have contract, business, or property disputes. Brandon grew up in Box Elder County but began his law practice in Eugene, Oregon where he focused on complex, multi-party civil litigation. He has been with Peck Hadfield since 2004. Brandon is licensed in Utah and Oregon.

Reproduced by permission. ©2011 The Utah Trial Journal (Summer 2011) All rights reserved.