Every year about this time, I participate as a faculty member in a training workshop. The workshop designed to teach lawyers how to better use technology in the courtroom, in mediation, or in any setting where they seek to persuade others. We show lawyers of various levels of experience how to use tech to enhance what they are trying to communicate. We limit attendance at the workshop to about 25 people. It’s a 2 ½ day session of intensive training on technology tools. This is followed by the opportunity for each person to give a presentation to the group using the tools about which they have learned.
While we certainly emphasize technology at the workshop, in the beginning, we also stress something else. We always try to impress on students the truism that they must start with the story they want to tell. Based on that story, they can then select the best tech tools to help tell that story. Persuasion is almost always best accomplished by telling a story that communicates what you want the listener to take away and believe. As I have discussed before, storytelling is an essential skill of lawyers and the foundation of what we do.
People don’t remember Toy Story for its technology. They remember it because it was a great story.
Think about the computer animated movie Toy Story. Yes, when Toy Story first came out, people marveled at the technology. It was the first full length computer animated movie, and it was terrific. But people don’t remember Toy Story for its technology. They remember it because it was a great story. It was a hit and is still watched by millions because it was a great story about friendship and loyalty. No amount of technology can turn a bad story into a good one. But even a little technology can help tell a good story.
All too often, I see lawyers falling into the trap of thinking they must use the latest and greatest technology for technology’s sake. They try to shoehorn the tech into the story whether it fits or not. The result is the technology detracts from the story and garbles the lawyer’s message. This often happens when trial presentation technicians try to justify their existence by telling the lawyer what the technicians should use in the courtroom. The fact that the technicians, who are not storytellers, determine the tech and then operate it in the courtroom, disrupts the story the lawyer is trying to tell.
You have to start with the story and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out what your story will be.
We have all seen the lawyer in the courtroom shouting to a technician, “Pull up that document. No, not that one. The other one. NO THE OTHER ONE”. The story is lost. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, you have to start with the story and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out what your story will be.
In this regard, technology is like images and pictures. Most lawyers (well, good ones, at least) don’t start preparing an opening statement by placing all the photos in a case on a table and then figuring out how to use every one of them in their opening statement. Instead, they pick out the ones that help tell the story. That helps them persuade the jurors. Technology is no different.
To effectively use technology to tell a story and persuade, a lawyer has to start with some knowledge of what tech is available. And they need some sense of how to use it. We spend time in our workshop acquainting students with the tech that could be used. We show them how to use it so that they can visualize its use. So they are not dependent on someone else to recommend what to use or to use it in the courtroom.
Lawyers are storytellers. And they are individuals.
Keep in mind that there are more ways to tell a story than one. We see our 25 some odd students tell 25 different variations of stories from the same fact pattern. Almost all of them are good. Most of the time, they show the technology they have learned to highlight their particular story version. And not surprisingly, there are usually some 25 different ways the technology is used.
Lawyers are storytellers. And they are individuals. They tell their stories in ways that fit their individuality. If they use tech for tech’s sake, they chip away at that individuality and personality that makes their stories unique. It is this individuality that makes what they are saying credible. There is the danger of depending on others for technology or using things like ChatGPT to create a story. The story has to be your story, no one else’s.