Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 42

ON FURTHER RE VIEW

Persuasive Storytelling
Tenets for Lawyers
By Lloyd Liu

E

ffective trial lawyers are often
described as great storytellers.1
Storytelling is about more than
conveying a narrative. It's about
making a story compelling and
palpable.

Angie Kim is a proven storyteller, both as an
accomplished litigator and an acclaimed
novelist. Her courtroom thriller, Miracle Creek,
has received critical praise from The Washington
Post, New York Times, and too many others to list
here. Miracle Creek also is the winner of the
2020 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel
from the Mystery Writers of America and the
2020 Thriller Award for Best First Novel from the
International Thriller Writers. The Ninth Circuit
chose Miracle Creek for its judges' reading list
and noted that its use of courtroom scenes to
present the story were "exceptionally well
written." Before becoming a full-time writer,
Kim practiced law at Williams & Connolly LLP
and clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III on
the Fourth Circuit.
Set in a fictional rural county in Virginia, Miracle
Creek features the trial of a woman accused of
setting fire to a hyperbaric oxygen therapy
chamber, resulting in death and disfigurement.
Much of the novel takes place in the courtroom.
It might seem backwards to try to draw lessons
about effective lawyering from a fiction writer.
After all, it's the guilty pleasure of most lawyers
and law students to ruthlessly eviscerate TV
shows and movies depicting the legal profession. But one thing to know about Kim is that
she knows what lawyers think when they
watch any legal drama. Somewhere out there is
a lawyers' edition of Miracle Creek, one filled
with all the procedures, rules, and techniques
they encounter in practice. In this edition

42 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

lawyers would authenticate their exhibits,
debate motions in limine, and exclude witnesses from the courtroom.

blank sheet on which to transcribe information.
A judge and a jury need to be engaged, and
experienced trial lawyers are attuned to that.

But that's not the version that was published.2
And that actually says something about not just
what makes compelling fiction, but also which
trial aspects a lawyer ought to emphasize.

The hallmark of good writing is distilling things.
This is evident from the thoughtfulness of Kim's
approach. She says, "Simple, clear, precise
writing is so much more important than
anything else. Make sure that people can follow
what you're saying and that your transitions
from one idea to the next are super clear. It's so
much more important than using big words."

In Miracle Creek, both the prosecutor and
defense attorney are performers. They do
things like feign surprise at facts they already
know and express anger or sadness in response
to testimony they've heard before. I asked Kim
what she thinks about performative behavior
like this. Some might think it's disingenuous,
but she offers another view: "In a way you're
performing and you're acting, but in another
way, you're being a facilitator for the judge and
the jury. What you're saying is, 'This is the kind
of reaction you should be having.'"
Persuasive storytelling very much demands
laying out motivation. Kim says, "If a case is
more complicated, you really need to bring the
human element into it. One thing that I realized
in writing fiction is that it doesn't matter how
implausible or plausible something is as long
as you can explain the motivation."
This is echoed by others. Jonathan Shapiro,
author of Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Story-
telling, describes motivation as a "code of causality."3 This goes directly to persuasion, to
helping your audience understand your point
of view. Details matter.

That isn't new advice, but taken with everything else, it's a statement that emphasizes
paying attention to what's important and not
falling too much in love with the sometimestechnocratic practice of law. Kim did away
with her lawyers' edition of Miracle Creek
because the streamlined version spoke to
a broader audience. That's important to
keep in mind.
Lloyd Liu is a partner at Bennett Doyle LLP, where
he focuses on white-collar defense, government
investigations, and complex civil litigation.

NOTES

	1	 See Philip N. Meyer, "How to Shape Your Legal
Storytelling," ABA Journal (October 1, 2014),
abajournal.com/magazine/article/shaping_
your_legal_storytelling; Jonathan Shapiro,
Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling: Using
Stories to Advocate, Influence, and Persuade (2014).

Describing trial lawyers as great storytellers
acknowledges that how you say something is
just as important as what you say. On this point,
Kim notes the importance of cadence. When
she writes a sentence or a paragraph, she reads
it out loud using inflection, paying attention to
the rhythm of the sounds.

	 2	 In fact, Kim has written an article about this.
Angie Kim, "How Not to Write Courtroom
Scenes," CrimeReads (April 17, 2019), crimereads.
com/how-not-to-write-courtroom-scenes.

How something sounds aesthetically is a key
part of storytelling. Your audience isn't just a

	3	 Shapiro, Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling
at 74.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020


http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/shaping_

Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar of Events
Family Law Assistance Network feature
An Avalanche of Evictions feature
Pro Bono Partnerships Forged in Crisis feature
Help for Pro Se Litigants Feature
Qualified Immunity feature
Taking Legal Support to the Streets feature
Taking the Stand Turning off the White Noise of Systemic Racism
Taking the Stand Situational Principles Aren't Really Principles
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
Member Spotlight - A. Benjamin Spencer
Member Spotlight - Amber Harding
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Speaking of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Family Law Assistance Network feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 12
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - An Avalanche of Evictions feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Pro Bono Partnerships Forged in Crisis feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 20
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Help for Pro Se Litigants Feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Qualified Immunity feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 32
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Taking Legal Support to the Streets feature
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Taking the Stand Turning off the White Noise of Systemic Racism
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Taking the Stand Situational Principles Aren't Really Principles
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Member Spotlight - A. Benjamin Spencer
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Member Spotlight - Amber Harding
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 46
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 50
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 54
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 57
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 58
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 59
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 60
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 61
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 62
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 63
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 64
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 65
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 66
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - 67
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - November/December 2020 - Cover4
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/novemberdecember2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/septemberoctober2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/june2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2020
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/october2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/julyaugust2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/june2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2019
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/June/July2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/March2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/February2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2018
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/december2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/November2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september 2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september 2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/august2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/july2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/June2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/may2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/april2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/march2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/february2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/january2017
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/december2016
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/november2016/
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/october2016
http://washingtonlawyer.dcbar.org/september2016
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com