The Art of the Prose
When it comes to the law, there is not a single area where the ability to craft language, play with prose, or narrate stories, is not essential. Reading the following two passages, which convey the same legal information, which one is more compelling to you?
“Defendant, an elderly gentleman, was confused by the legal
requirements, but now has counsel. Defendant requests that
this honorable Court, pursuant to Civ.R. 15(A), grant leave
to file an amended answer.”
“Defendant, a grandfather, was rocked by a storm of
allegations, shocked by the claims made and acted in good
faith. While he attempted to answer Plaintiff’s complaint
properly, with no guidance, he was cast adrift in the sea of
litigation, without a lighthouse leading to safe harbor. Defendant
has now found the calm waters of counsel, and, respectfully, in
the interest of justice and fairness requests that this
honorable Court, pursuant to Civ.R. 15(A), grant him leave to
amend his answer.”
In Ohio, we elect our Judges, and our juries are made up of our peers. The version that is compelling to you, will be the one compelling to them.
One of the most obvious areas where the ability to craft prose is important is litigation. When dealing with a Judge, who will often read very similar arguments multiple times a month, an attorney needs to find a way to make their case stand out. Why give the judge the ability to say “well, this one is just like that one, same answer”, unless, of course, that’s the result you want? Instead, by taking the time to create a picture for the judge, the issue will be carefully attended to, and the judge will take the time to fully consider the true impact the matter has on you.
When dealing with a jury, the story becomes even more important. Just like the classic phrase “walk a mile in their shoes”, the goal of narrative crafting is to evoke a sense of empathy from the jury, forcing them to picture their own family. Nobody wants grandpa or grandma to be abandoned, and everybody remembers their own feelings of being overwhelmed. A good attorney will have a jury hanging on their every word, waiting for the next page of the book to be turned.
There is a fairly well-known book, “The Art of the Deal”, but for me, when making a deal at a table across from another attorney, I think of “The Art of the Prose”. When we are sitting down at that table, our goal is to either mitigate the risk of litigation, or it is to find a resolution to a concern that both parties are happy with, or it is to allow the parties to merge or otherwise reach an agreement to work together (or break apart). Regardless of the purpose of the negotiation, storytelling is a fundamental component.
When trying to mitigate the risk of litigation, walking the other side through your damages, potential claims, and supporting facts could be done with a spreadsheet, or it could be done by crafting a strong positional statement that shows that you have a strong case and that I am ready to argue it in Court if necessary. When working to a resolution, the ability not only to convince the opposing party of the value of your position but to also help narrate that party’s own position back to them, will always result in a better resolution. When merging or reaching an agreement to work together, being able to tell a story of “five years from now…” is what gets a signature on that line.
In trusts, other life-planning documents, and most business documents, the instructions that you leave for your successor govern what they are allowed to do. By describing the conditions that you want to continue fighting under, versus those you’d rather not experience, you can inform your attorney-in-fact, or trustee, of exactly what your wishes are. The better the image presented to your successor is, the closer they will be to following your wishes. Likewise, by painting a picture of what you absolutely don’t want to happen, you can ensure that no matter what changes may occur in technology and science, your wishes will adapt to any new reality.
Similarly, consider your average employee handbook, or disclaimers on a website. They are boring, they are dry, and a lot of people don’t read them. But if you “spice them up”, create a compelling flow, and work to draft them as an accessible, but protecting, document, they will likely be read, remembered, and absorbed. If you don’t like answering the same question over and over with your employees, maybe it is time to have an attorney write a handbook that the employees will want to read.
There is more to prose than flowing, flowery language. There is an intentional structure, designed to draw the reader/listener along the story arc, compelling them to understand the position of our client. Ensuring that your truth is told and that your position is highlighted, is the fundamental job of an attorney.
The attorneys at Eques have over 50 years of legal experience, and a wide variety of outside experiences to draw upon. Our attorneys have crafted unique, compelling narratives that have won hard-to-win cases, and we are ready to help you tell your story, your truth. If you are caught in the whirlwind of legal concerns, give us a call today, and let us light your pathway forward.
Attorney At Law