Lawyers: How to Win Cases with Storytelling


Remember being a child and having your favorite book read to you by a parent? Or hearing someone tell a funny family story that is often repeated? How about telling your friends about something great that happened over the weekend?

Storytelling is the oldest form of narrative communication by humans. It’s wired into our DNA. Every human culture uses stories in an attempt to explain and make sense of the universe.

The fastest way to connect to a jury when presenting your case is to use stories. When you talk with friends, you don’t use big legal words or complicated concepts. It should be no different when talking to a jury. Tell the story of your client and case in a way that jurors can relate to.

As author and keynote speaker Carmine Gallo said, “Storytelling is not something we do, storytelling is who we are.” His book The Storyteller’s Secret is a seminal book on how to win the hearts and minds of listeners through stories.


How To Find Your Story

The most successful lawyers focus the jury’s minds on one idea.  They don’t just give out information and facts, but draw in the listeners by telling a story. The idea/story should take no longer than  30 seconds and use profound verbal imagery to forge an emotional connection.

Here is an example: The Plaintiff is a man who lost his arms in an accident.  The closing argument by his attorney was short and sweet, not hours. The lawyer, Moe Levine, explained that he and his client went to lunch like the jurors and everyone in the courtroom. However, because his client had no arms, he had to eat like a dog. This resulted in one of the largest settlements in New York’s history at the time.

 If you’re going to be a top trial attorney, you need to choreograph your whole case like a play and work on your own communication skills. Life happens in narratives, and you need a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.

Think about how you felt when you first took the case. What part of the client’s story gave you an emotional reaction? Start making notes about your feelings, not just your legal arguments, and condense them to one line. That will be the essence of your case. Expand that into a 30 second story and practice it on friends or focus juries.

Remember what John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden:

“If a story is not about the hearer he [or she] will not listen . . . A great lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting–only the deeply personal and familiar.”

Make your case into a story with a universal and heartfelt message, and great results will follow.




Right now, the media is in an uproar over the case of Ray Rice, the NFL Football player who knocked his wife, Janay, out with a punch to the head in an elevator. He’s been suspended.

The front page of has Janay making a statement that “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific. (sic)” 

Ray Rice Press Conference

Will the media now begin the “victim blame game?” Go back and read the first paragraph of this blog. It’s about Ray Rice committing a criminal act of domestic violence that’s caught on tape. Now, look at the second paragraph. It’s about his wife making excuses for him. These two events are completely separate.

Does it matter that Janay supports him? No.

Does it matter that she thinks his punishment is inappropriate? No.

Twenty years ago, another football player murdered his former wife. That was O.J. Simpson. Prior to the murder, he’d beaten Nicole, but at the murder trial, people were just beginning to see the connection between an act of DV and how it can lead to murder. 

Nicole Battered1

At that time, I was a prosecutor working domestic violence cases, and the OJ case was the beginning of reform in the handling of domestic violence, even though it had been happening for centuries. The attitude towards these cases was still archaic. Some police officers attending my trainings on the subject told me they didn’t want to keep going back to the same place on domestic violence calls because they thought if the victim returned to the situation, it was a waste of their time. The majority of the cases that came across my desk had a victim who didn’t want to press charges within one to two days after the event.

O.J. Simpson, even though he was acquitted, shined a light on these attitudes. Domestic Violence reform and penalties moved to the forefront of people’s minds.

Today, I hope that when people watch the video of Janay supporting her husband, they don’t blame her for her husband’s actions. She’s caught up in a cycle of violence. From most people’s rational point of view, what she’s saying is idiocy. Remember, it’s easy to judge from a secure place.

cycle of violence

My goal as a prosecutor was to focus on the batterer and his/her actions. My duty was to make it stop by proving my case, even if the victim couldn’t bring themselves to believe that’s what was necessary.

I hope people keep their focus on which of these two people is the real guilty party.

Victim Blaming

Prosecutors and Sex Crimes: What Year Are We In?

The other day I was reading the Huffington Post and came across an article titled “Prosecutors Rarely Bring Charges in College Rape Cases.” It detailed how an LA County prosecutor informed a victim that he wasn’t going to proceed with her case because jurors “have no experience in any kind of sex crimes occurring in their life” and would have problems convicting beyond a reasonable doubt. Sound plausible to you?

Well, the offender confessed. CONFESSED. Read the full article here:

When I read this, I wondered: What year is this? It’s 2014, right?


In 1990, I was a prosecutor and had been assigned a rape case to evaluate. The victim, a Philippine immigrant, was 22 years old. She was engaged to a Marine who was getting ready to head out to Iraq in the first gulf war. The night before their wedding, she stayed with a friend who was going to assist her in putting on her dress the next day. The friend’s boyfriend, who she’d never met, joined them and they toasted the wedding. He drank a lot. In the middle of the night, he came in and raped the bride-to-be. She lay there in shock, doing nothing. When he’d finished, she fled the apartment, called her fiance and went to get a rape exam. Then she got married to him the next day.

I found the victim to be credible and decided to file charges…to the consternation of fellow prosecutors. What was I thinking? How could I win this case? I was even bet by a colleague that I’d lose.

That was 1990. I’d look around me and see prosecutors refusing to issue cases, not because they didn’t have enough evidence to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, but because they were afraid to lose. If it wasn’t a “slam dunk,” they wouldn’t do it. They also worried about jurors and whether they could put together a group who would convict. Trust me, if you’ve studied jury selection enough there’s an intelligent way to find a good jury.

The issue the defense chose to bring forward at trial was not consent, but that the victim wasn’t reasonably afraid. I brought in an expert on frozen fear to discuss why she hadn’t struggled. My trial team supervisor came in to watch me put on this evidence and I convicted the defendant.

The judge seemed concerned about the issue of fear. Why? I’m still not sure, but when the defense appealed, three justices of the 4th District Court of appeals agreed there was a problem. Their opinion, reversing my conviction, said the victim “should have screamed.” They also said “Why was she afraid? She didn’t know (the defendant) and didn’t know he’d be violent.” Hmm…what if you weigh 90 pounds and some 200 plus man comes in the middle of the night to rape you? Would you be scared if you didn’t know him that well? Also, there’s no resistance requirement in California.

Six years went by. SIX YEARS before the case went to the California Supreme Court. My conviction was unanimously reinstated due to the stellar work of a deputy attorney general and amicus briefs by women’s groups and the San Diego Lawyer’s Club. Here’s a link if you want to read the opinion, People v. Iniguez


Every year, there are close to 250K victims, older than age 12, of sexual assault in the United States. Statistics show that sexual assault has decreased by more than half since 1993. However:

  • 60% of rapes aren’t reported and the figure goes up to 95% if it’s a college rape.
  • 44% of victims are under the age of 18
  •  80% are under the age of 30
  • Two-thirds of the rapists are a known to the victim and 38% are a friend or acquaintance.
  • Four out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim’s home.

Here’s a link to RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network for more information:


Now, moving forward to what happens with prosecution of rape cases. CBS News reported in 2009 that the arrest rate in 2008 for rapes was just 25%- a fraction of the rate for murder which was at 79% and aggravated assault at 51%. That means only 1/4 of all rape cases lead to arrests by law enforcement. Then the cases are evaluated by prosecutorial agencies. How many cases are actually filed against rapists?

Sure, there were rape victims I evaluated who weren’t telling the truth. That happens, and some cases have evidentiary problems. But, years ago, I saw the same problems with prosecutors not moving forward as there appears to be today. These cases can be complicated and no one can ever guarantee a result, but should they be abandoned entirely due to conviction rate concerns?

If you want to read more about the problems with prosecutorial agencies, I highly recommend Sex Crimes by Alice Vachss. She was on the cover of Parade magazine in the early 1990’s for her work on tough sex-crime cases no one else wanted. Then she got fired by the Bronx DA’s office. She felt prosecutors were more interested in convictions than justice and was outspoken about it.


Read more at:,220609

What is it going to take for this to change? Get involved, become aware and lobby for change.

We’re in 2014, right?


As a speaker, Toastmaster and public speaking/trial skills coach, I get to see lots of presentations. What’s the one thing that makes me want to put my head in my hands?


This product should come with a warning label:



Think back to when you were (or maybe still are) trapped in a classroom at the mercy of a teacher who drones on while pointing to the board and reading things verbatim that he/she has written there. Powerpoint is simply the digital age update of the chalk/black/white board.

Unfortunately, even though people are “professionals,” that doesn’t mean they understand the importance of putting together visuals to enhance their message.


Recently, I attended a presentation put on by a PR firm from Los Angeles. Their business is to promote writers. In addition to the speaker using the words “um” and “like” every few seconds when she spoke, the tan text color of the words on her Powerpoint slides melted into the brown/green background, making them impossible to read. Within fifteen minutes, people began to walk out. I thought they were being gracious. I wanted to leave within the first two minutes.


Here are some tips to follow if you’re using Powerpoint:

1. Make sure audiences can SEE your slides

Check the font colors, text size, images from the back of the largest room you’ll be doing your presentation in. How do they look? Will everyone be able to see them? Are they TOO CRAZY?

2. Don’t read verbatim

I learned to read before kindergarten. Most people attending presentations know how to read. Use IMAGES and SHORT PHRASES to complement what you’re saying. If the content of your speech is important, email it or provide in handouts to your audience after you’re done. If you provide handouts before, the audience will focus on reading them, and not listen.

3. Don’t marry your equipment.

I’m not sure what’s so seductive about screens and remotes, but presenters using Powerpoint typically stare from the hand that holds the control to the slides they’re showing. The audience seems to have disappeared from their minds. Presenters also stand too close to their machines, like kids in a first relationship who always want to hold hands. Focus on your message, not the machinery.

 4. Look at your audience and move around.

Hi! I’m over here. Why are you looking at the Powerpoint presentation and not me?

Eye contact engages an audience in your message. Be dynamic and remember your presentation should complement your message, not be your message.

5. Make it fun.


I don’t care if your talk is super technical or content driven, please inject some humor somewhere.  I’m sure you’re proud of all those charts and graphs, but…huh? What was I saying? I think I fell asleep.

Give your audience hope the talk will be fun so they don’t lean against the person next to them and catch a nap. Add cartoons, video or some other content that makes people smile.

Good luck to everyone in their next presentation. I’m looking forward to the day I won’t have to keep my Hara-kiri sword in my briefcase.



Adventures In Restraining Order Land

Recently I decided to go to court to watch civil harassment restraining order hearings before a judge I hadn’t appeared before. I have a case in front of him soon and wanted to see if his judicial temperament was  reasoned jurist or screaming maniacal behemoth.

A civil harassment order is something you obtain when someone harasses, threatens, stalks, assaults or engages in similar unacceptable behavior. It enables you to call the police and have them arrested if they come near you again. The court issues a temporary order then, after the offender is served, conducts a full hearing to decide the merits of continuing the temporary order.


When I arrived at the department, the doors were still locked. About thirty people were in the hall. Many were civilians, some were lawyers. I looked at the calendar and saw there would be both civil harassment order hearings and elder abuse protection orders.

The bailiff opened the doors and the masses flooded in. Since I’d be leaving before all the matters were heard, I popped into a seat in the very back row, back against the wall and close to the door. Moments later, a large male accompanied by a part-Chihuahua, part-no idea appeared before me. He looked like a mountain leading a molehill. The dog wore a red service animal cape that looked suspiciously homemade. It stood proudly, like Mighty Mouse.

“I need to sit there,” the Mountain told me, indicating my seat. ” I have a service dog.”

Why my seat looked better than the one next to me, I didn’t know, but I moved. I didn’t want to chance that the dog might have super powers.


All the seats filled rapidly and left numerous people standing in the aisles. Several were lawyers, one who looked like a villain from a James Bond film with closely cropped white hair and a supercilious attitude. He tried to pounce on any seat that he perceived might be available, even if it was when a woman stood to adjust her skirt. When he removed his jacket, his shirt was half-untucked in the back. I wasn’t going to tell him.

When the judge took the bench, his first order of business was to let people take seats in the jury box. I’d been wondering why the bailiff hadn’t allowed it before to alleviate the overcrowding, but guess the only person allowed to use their brain was the judge.

The first case was called and the Mountain got up and walked toward the table where people sit if it’s them who need to be restrained. His little dog marched along beside him, tail straight up,  jaunty curl at the tip. I wondered what he’d done.

The judge indicated that the other party was on the phone. I thought it must be a lawyer using CourtCall. He put the call on speaker and the thin, reedy and querulous voice of a woman filled the courtroom.

“I’m sick, I cannot be there. I need you to let me continue this case. I’m sick.”

Okay, perhaps this was a reasonable request.

Then, “I need to get the FBI there for the hearing, like I told you last time.”

Here’s the thing. People who talk about bringing the FBI to a restraining order hearing aren’t usually playing with a full deck.

The judge tried to elicit some information from the woman, but she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise or any other way.

“I’m sick, I cannot be there. I’m going to throw up!”

The Mountain interrupted to tell the judge that the police had been at this woman’s house for several hours a few days ago and that was a typical occurrence. She was always causing trouble.

“That’s not true!” she screamed.

The next thing we heard went like this: BBRRACK. BBBBBRRRRAAAACK.

She was barfing. Or pretending to barf. I don’t know. There’d already been some raised eyebrows and glances exchanged between the people in the courtroom audience prior to this. Now, there was laughter. This was nuts.


Ultimately, the court decided the Mountain didn’t need to be restrained. He dismissed the case. Handler and dog pirouetted out of the courtroom and it was on to the next matter.

A seventy year old woman and her interpreter came forward. She wanted an order against a young man in his early twenties who had rented a room from her, but lived there no longer. She claimed he’d made sexual advances against her. The young man was offended.

“If I want an old woman, I’ll date someone who is thirty!”

Those of us a bit older found that pretty funny. The judge dismissed the case. He told the woman if the young man bothered her again to come back and he’d rehear it.

Next up was a Neighbor v. Neighbor dispute. Neighbor A’s dogs were allegedly pooping in Neighbor B’s yard. Neighbor A claimed it was not his dogs, but coyotes doing this. We were privileged to hear a five minute discussion on the difference between coyote and dog poop until the judge finally shut it down. Oddly, it was Neighbor A who sought the order. Wasn’t it his dogs that were trespassing and causing problems? Neighbor B claimed his kids couldn’t even play in the front yard because they might get menaced. What was going on?

Then we got to the good part: Neighbor B had gotten so fed up with the dog poo situation he’d taken a pile of the stuff and….smeared it all over Neighbor A’s car.

The judge inquired why Neighbor B thought that was a good idea. Didn’t he know that things like that usually led to fist fights? Neighbor B didn’t have a good explanation. I can’t think of any situation where he would.


That order got granted. I would hate to live anywhere near those two.

I left after that case, having gotten way more entertainment than I’d ever thought I would. So, if you’re ever bored, go check out the civil harassment order calendar nearest you. Truth is always stranger than fiction.   






The word “troll” is used to describe people who sow discord on the Internet, start arguments, cause uproars and foment general discontent. In 2014, Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late comedian Robin Williams, was driven off Twitter after receiving menacing and abusive messages from trolls. In February 2015, the Washington Post published an article by Michelle Goldberg about trolls who have caused many feminist writers to stop writing. Many other these women had received threats of physical harm and constant harassment.

Trolls, however, don’t confine themselves to cyberspace. If you think back through your workplace experiences, someone might come to mind who fits this description. Your contact with them might even be recent.


Here are some examples of workplace troll behaviors:

  • Running to a supervisor to complain about a co-worker and lying/exaggerating the issue, if there even is one.
  • Giving a co-worker permission to do something that isn’t correct then denying they had given consent.
  • Taking credit for another co-worker’s work.
  • Blaming problems on a project on another person, when it was them.
  • Complaining about how hard they are working (and insinuating others aren’t) when, in actuality, they’re spending more time complaining than working.

I could go on, but I’m sure you can add to the list.

What motivates people to act like this? Maybe they hate themselves and/or their lives so much that when they see someone else who has what they want, they feel compelled to try to tear that person apart. Maybe they’re simply mean-spirited and vindictive by nature. I’m not sure.

How do you deal with a workplace troll? (No, you can’t bring violence into the picture, except in your imagination).

  • Ignore them if they’re merely annoying and not causing any problems for you or others.
  • Deal with them with humor and kindness.
  • Document everything they do if it’s affecting your career.
  • Confront them in a calm way (with a witness)
  • Call in a drone strike…Oops. Sorry. My imagination’s getting in the way again.
  • Tell your supervisor. And their supervisor. And all supervisors.
  • If nothing changes because your supervisors don’t do anything and your work life has become impacted by the troll’s continuing harassment, talk to an employment lawyer.


Your life and happiness is important. Don’t let a workplace troll poison it!

Beta Traps and Crocodile Brains

Are you job interviewing in this down economy? Pitching a book idea?  Picking a jury? Trying to convince a loved one they really need to go to that football game with you? Raising venture capital?

Life’s about sales, no matter if it’s business or personal relationships. 

I recently read a book by Oren Klaff called Pitch Anything! Klaff chased down every useable theory in the field of Neuroeconomics and formulated an answer to both how he could better forge a connection with the people he was pitching to, which led to multi-million dollar deals in venture capital.




Klaff says that for more than 40 years, sales trainers have been teaching techniques and methods that help “situationally disadvantaged” salespeople (low social status) get an appointment, build rapport, package a business transaction in a thin and fragile emotional wrapper and, if they’re lucky or doggedly persistent, close a sale.  But it’s all WRONG. 

He talks about how people preparing to pitch ideas have several things to overcome:

1. Beta Traps

2. Crocodile Brains 

You’ve all sat in lobbies or conference rooms before being interviewed, pitching a product or giving a presentation. The moldy magazines, the indifferent receptionist, the bored audiences…you’re stuck in a Beta Trap. Klaf discusses how to change the situation and become an Alpha. It’s crucial in order for people to give attention to you and/or your ideas. 

Then, all the ideas you’re sharing that have been developed in the neurocortex of your brain are being heard by Crocodiles. Their brain says:

1. If it’s not dangerous, IGNORE IT.

2. If it’s not new and exciting, IGNORE IT.

3. Crocodiles will NOT send anything up to the neocortex for problem solving unless they see         
a)  a situation that’s unexpected and out of the ordinary or

  b) you have a product as sexy as the iPhone when it first came out that triggered dopamine and sent the brain a reward about pleasure. 

After reading his book, I saw the ideas he discusses can be applied to a wider audience. When I began my career as a prosecutor, the first thing I focused on learning was how to pick juries. I thought, if I didn’t have twelve people who would listen to my case, I might as well pack up before I started. 

Jurors might initially excited to be there, so that helps get around their crocodile brains, but if you can’t sustain their attention they’re going to SHUT DOWN.

If you’re interviewing for a job, if you don’t change up the situation and make them view you as an alpha and keep their attention, you might not get hired.

I highly recommend reading Oren Klaff’s book with a mind to how it can be applied on a broader basis in your life.