Storytelling for Lawyers

Twelve Heroes Legal Storytelling Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College

Twelve Heroes, One Voice reviewed in the Advocate magazine

Reviewed by Scott Glovsky in CAOC's Advocate magazine (July 2012)

As trial lawyers, we are storytellers. Most law schools, however, do not offer classes in storytelling. Yet storytelling is our business. So how do you tell a story at trial? And how do you tell a story when the defense successfully objects to your questions? Or, when the judge stops you from introducing evidence central to your theory of the case? Or, when you have 11 tort-reformers on your jury? How do you tell a story so that a jury will follow, understand and feel it, and set aside their biases and be empowered to do justice?

We are very lucky that Carl Bettinger, one of the best and most innovative trial lawyers in the country has answered these questions and more in his new book on storytelling in the courtroom entitled Twelve Heroes, One Voice. The great power in Bettinger’s book is that his approach forces us to shed the chains of litigating a case in favor of telling a compelling story.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have seen Bettinger in action for years at the Trial Lawyers College. He is one of the great alumni of the Trial Lawyers College and a real person who cares deeply about people. After spending well over a decade as legal staff at the Trial Lawyers College, and studying psychodrama, storytelling, improvisational theatre, and communication, he has synthesized his learnings and wisdom in this great book.

Twelve Heroes, One Voice first explores the hero-centric story structure that has been passed down through the ages from Homer to Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. In the book, Bettinger explains how we are all wired for story, and how people have communicated and learned through story throughout time. He then explores the elements of a story, including the roles of the hero, mentor, villain, victim, and trickster. He explains how we, as trial lawyers, fit into the role of mentor.

Furthermore, the writer defines storytelling techniques involving point of view, place and sequence. He then addresses how the reader can apply these techniques in finding and developing the story in the courtroom, along with applying these tools in voir dire, opening, examinations and closing argument. In addition, he includes several examples from transcripts from his own trials to help the reader learn these concepts.

Twelve Heroes, One Voice describes how we must make the story about the listener. Bettinger reverses roles with the jurors and helps the reader understand their reality. The book also provides tools to help discover the story of the case – the meaningful story that will move jurors to deliver justice to clients. He demonstrates how to take the jurors on a hero’s journey so that they will transform from their ordinary lives, and be called to action and tested, learn from a mentor, descend into a cave danger, defeat the evildoer, and ultimately return to their lives having gained new insight and wisdom because of their journey.

As trial lawyers, we must show jurors the ordinary world of our client, the defendant, and the jurors’ ordinary world. Yet if we are to make jurors the heroes of our stories, they must undergo the transformation required of any hero. Twelve Heroes, One Voice shows the reader how this is done by approaching the client’s injury as the inciting event, which drags the client, the defendant, and the jurors into this new world of the courtroom. As their mentor, the attorney strives to show the jurors the conflict in this new world, including the motivations of the client and the defendant. We must show the battle in order to deliver the story to the jurors so that they can write the ending.

The author explains how the summons to the courthouse is what sets the hero-jurors upon their new journey and into the new world of the courtroom. As readers, we learn that the climax of the story should present the hero-jurors with a dilemma, forcing a choice between two options. The responsibility as mentors is to guide the hero-jurors to recognize the central question the trial poses and to recognize and use the power they have to bring justice to our clients.

The book points out that as mentors, trial lawyers are guides, confìdants and teachers. The main job is to arm the heroes with what they need to survive in the new world. We will have to coax these new heroes, and provide them with the tools they need to save the day. Ultimately, we must step aside so that they can confront the villain in closing argument. For just when the heroes think they need their mentor the most, the mentor pats them on the back, tells them they have what it takes, and then steps aside.

Twelve Heroes, One Voice is a testament to Carl’s power in the courtroom, derived no doubt from his years of work in psychodrama and improvisational theater. Carl is a great mentor for trial lawyers, and now with this book, he has put into a literary format, excellent guidance for those of us who seek to leave our ordinary lives, fight corporate dragons, and bring the magic elixir of justice back from the courtroom to our clients’ lives.

If you aspire to be a great trial lawyer, you must read this book.

Scott C. Glovsky is a trial attomey in Pasadena. His practice emphasizes catastrophic personal injury and insurance bad faith. He received the "Street Fighter of the Year Award" from CAOC in 2008, and is a graduate of Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College. Mr. Glovsky received, his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and his J.D. from Cornell Law School.

Reproduced by permission. ©2012 The Advocate Magazine (July 2012) All rights reserved.