"Jurors will vote with their hearts, and then find the legal hook to hang their emotions on," a law professor advised me almost 20 years ago. In other words, rather than basing their decisions on the law, jurors vote according to their feelings - and then decide the law they will use to justify that decision. Perhaps the reason so many people were outraged by the O.J. Simpson case was because it was such a blatant example of his theory.
I have always remembered his words and keep them in the forefront of my mind as I help clients map out strategies for the courtroom. So when I'm called in to assist on a project, my first question is: "What is the story?" I'm looking for a story to tell the jurors which will emotionally connect them to my client's case. But what happens more often than not, instead of getting a story, I get the law.
An Inheritance Case: The Plaintiff's Story
For instance, in a case involving an elderly woman suing the family of her 'gentleman friend' for part of his estate, I was informed the case was about a verbal contract. The plaintiff claimed that she had been the old man's caretaker for 10 years and that he had promised to financially compensate her in his will for her services . But he had left his estate to his family, instead. A new will, bequeathing her $100,000, had been drafted, but not signed. Plaintiff had to prove there had been an agreement and she should be compensated.
"Okay," I replied, "But what is the story?"
Three hours later, after asking what seemed at times to my client to be irrelevant, dumb and exasperating questions, I got the answer to my initial query. The story was about...