A writer can not complete a novel in one sitting. In the same context, a lawyer can not complete a legal argument in one draft. Building a case-winning story requires structured crafting to organize a logical narrative. Consequently, the strength of this narrative is drawn from the presentation of the facts.
Of the many elements that converge to create a story within your argument, the principle ingredient is plot. The plot is the series of facts from which a story is built. Consequently, it informs the judge and jury of the who, what, when and where of your argument. Prepare your draft with these in mind in order to establish the foundation of the story.
Plot in Legal Argument
Plot helps a jury follow your argument in a logical manner. Therefore, you can imagine the elements of a plot as a set of footprints in the snow. Each one is individual in nature, but when put together, they demonstrate the direction a story is taking.
Plot integrates the Who, What, When and Where of a legal argument. These are facts, while the Why and How are part of the story. Legal arguments work to tie facts together through testimony and evidence in order to tell the story. Therefore, your plot does not include argument. It does not contain conjecture. It does not contain hypothesis. Leave those for the story.
However, plot organization in a good argument does not naturally occur on it’s own. Though the facts fall within a logical progression, they can be introduced in a different order to make them stronger. The mechanics to do this are simple, and draw from basic journalistic lessons.
organize like a journalist
Any well-written news story starts with introducing the facts in a logical order. The logic is based primarily on significance rather than chronology. Depending on the story, it can be more important to introduce the What before the When. This gives relevant control to your story.
For example, Mrs. Jones divorcing Mr. Jones and the most important fact is the What– ‘Divorce on grounds of infidelity.’ When outlining the order of your plot, introduce the basis of the grounds first. “Your honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. My client is suing on the grounds of marital infidelity.”
Next, introduce the plot element you decide is secondary in importance. In this example, we will use When. “These differences are irreconcilable based on Mr Jones’ regularly scheduled rendezvous every Thursday afternoon when my client was at work.”
Determining how to organize these elements is a combination of experience and storytelling confidence. The more practice and revision a legal argument goes through, the more refined and strengthened it becomes.
Lead the plot with the most important element. From there, work down the list of points sharing all of the facts. Your audience expects the plot to be organized this way, with the most important information introduced first. This is because primary facts are universally understood to be more important than secondary ones. Therefore, your organization choices are critical to the story’s development.
legal argument plots are A framework
Going back to the analogy of footprints in the snow, the facts in a plot are a framework that a story follows. Seen from afar, footprints in the snow tell not only the direction of travel, but why the travelers passed that way. Perhaps they were moving toward shelter or away from a storm. Maybe there’s a second set of bear tracks following them. Using demonstrative techniques, reasonable doubt as well as cause and effect illustration, a legal argument utilizes the factual elements to build a story. Because the plot is a framework, it shapes the story elements and supports them for validity.
- Identify the facts
- Organize for effect
- Remove hypothesis
- Lead with strongest element
- Stick to the framework
- Validate your efforts
As a lawyer, it is your goal to present the facts as irrefutable. If the facts change, the various elements of the story come crumbling down as they are no longer support the framework of the plot. A legal argument begins with what you know is true. Begin with a solid plot structure to build a solid story.
I’d love to hear your feedback on developing plot in legal cases. Please leave your comments below.