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Angiulo: Storytelling Traditions Alive in Today’s Courtrooms

Monday, March 17, 2014

 

In many ways, the role of Attorneys during trial is like two storytellers going to work before an audience, believes Leonardo Angiulo.

We celebrate a number of things on St. Patrick's day including two of my favorites, beer and Irish women like my wife. It's core, however, is a celebration of the Celtic world and traditions. The most important tradition for the purposes of this column is the Irish Storytellers known as seanchai. In the years before Christianity came to Ireland there was no written word, just oral tradition. For generations, history was passed from storyteller to storyteller so that people could relive the past as if they were there when it happened.

In many ways, the role of Attorneys during trial is like two storytellers going to work before an audience. The heart of trial work is an opportunity for advocates to persuade the jury or judge that the events of a particular day are consistent with their legal theory and so the trial should be decided in their client's favor. Take car accident cases as an example. Plaintiff's counsel will examine witnesses in an effort to show that their client was rear-ended because a defendant was driving too fast and so the accident was their fault. Defendant's counsel, on the other hand, might try to highlight that part of the story that shows the plaintiff had braked suddenly for no reason.

Unlike the storyteller sessions we might think of in our mind, a single grizzly bearded old man in a firelit room, trials involve many more moving parts. Those moving parts are generally known as witnesses and, unlike stories, their evidence at trial can't be simply improvised or tweaked to suit the mood. Witness testimony is generally limited to first hand observations and offered through direct examination.

The fundamentals of direct examination include open ended questions focusing on questions of who, what, when and where. Take our hypothetical car accident case. Plaintiff's counsel might use a direct examination of their client to tell the story of where there client had come from, where they were going and what prevented them from arriving at their destination. In addition, the direct examination may focus on things like when the paramedics arrived and where the pins were implanted during corrective surgery.

After direct examination comes cross examination. This is an opportunity for an Attorney to tell his client's story through the witness' answers to his questions. Unlike direct examination, the questions under cross examination are supposed to be asked in such a way that the witness answers either yes or no. Most importantly, the questions are supposed to build upon each other and lead observers to the point the questioner is trying to make.

Just like the storytellers of ancient Ireland, Trial Attorneys are asked to make lasting impressions often without producing anything in writing. While there are important differences, the fact that our current practice strongly reflects how things have been done for eons is illustrative of some larger truths. At least one of those truths being that nothing replaces a good story told well.

 

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

 

Related Slideshow: 10 Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

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RiRa

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RiRa: 50 Exchange Terrace, Providence, RI, 02903 

 
 

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