September 7, 2010

Judges and Storytelling

Kenneth D. Chestek, Indiana University, Indianapolis, has published Judging by the Numbers: An Empirical Study of the Power of Story in volume 7 of the Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors (2010). Here is the abstract.

This article focuses on the question of whether appellate judges are actually influenced by the stories of the litigants who appear before them. Part I will describe what I call the “DNA model of persuasion,” setting forth the hypothesis that logical argumentation, while a necessary part of persuasion, is not sufficient by itself and that using the form of a story to weave a pathos-based appeal into a brief will produce a more persuasive document. Part II of this article will describe a study that I devised and implemented to test whether appellate judges find story argumentation persuasive; Part III will present the results of the study. Part IV addresses possible objections to the validity of the test and the sample collected. Part V will begin an analysis of what the data might mean.

Among other things, I conclude that stories are indeed persuasive to appellate judges and others, but also that recent law school graduates are not as impressed by stories as more experienced lawyers (and judges) are. Finally, I suggest that stories are helpful because, properly done, they evoke emotional responses within the reader that make the legal claim seem more “real,” and hence believable, to the reader.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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