November 28, 2007

Using Film to Teach Legal Writing: The Case of Dogville

Elyse Pepper, St. John's University School of Law, has published "The Case for "Thinking Like a Filmmaker": Using Lars von Trier's Dogville as a Model For Writing a Statement of Facts," as St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-0083. It will also be published in the Journal of the Legal Writing Institute. Here is the abstract.
Notwithstanding the consensus that cases are won on facts - not law, scant attention is paid to persuasive fact writing in the law school curriculum. At best, we instruct students to ?tell a story,? and provide them with a few organizational guidelines. The result is one newly-minted class of lawyers after another who struggle to enlighten the court about ?what happened? to the parties in the case at bar. This article considers how movies can help law students make the connection between storytelling and legal outcomes. Not only do the films that captivate us as an audience address the themes we must communicate as advocates, but the narrative, structure, and style of a film can serve as a model for conveying a story to the court. Using Lars von Trier's 2003 film, Dogville, the article explores the philosophy and process of crafting a series of events into a persuasive statement of facts. Examining the film's storytelling techniques, and borrowing many of them, allows the advocate to build a convincing narrative that promotes the logical reasoning advanced in the brief's argument section.

Download the entire paper from SSRN here.

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