Castor, left, and Pollux.

"The Story of Castor and Poleax" appeared in the July 2006 issue of Barnett’s Notes on Commercial Litigation, the monthly newsletter of Susman Godfrey L.L.P.:

In the June Hot Lunch column, I promised to talk this month about the story of Castor and Poleax. As students of the ancient world noted, Greek and Roman mythology celebrates Castor but knows nothing of Poleax. My apologies. Poleax refers to a medieval weapon for smiting enemies or to a device for stunning livestock preparatory to slaughter. Pollux, on the other hand, denotes Castor’s immortal twin. I deeply regret any confusion that I may have caused.

Castor and Pollux ride across the firmament at night, forming the brightest stars in the constellation of Gemini — Latin for twins. Although stories about them vary, these heroic brothers of Helen (she of Trojan fame) travel much and fight more. They join Jason and his Argonauts on his quest for the Golden Fleece. And, when a cousin slays Castor, the deathless Pollux begs his father Zeus to let him join Castor in Hades. Pollux’s fraternal devotion so moves the king of the gods that he instead allows Pollux to share his immortality with his brother. So Castor and Pollux alternate their days between Mount Olympus and the land of the dead.

Now, you may ask, what does the myth of Castor and Pollux have to do with commercial litigation? What can it teach our profession — beyond the foolhardiness of promising (as I did in the June issue) to write about something that you know next to nothing about?

Plenty. Bear with me.

Cliff Atkinson’s new book, Beyond Bullet Points, urges speakers to change the way they use the visual aid of commercial trial lawyers the world over — the PowerPoint presentation. The bullet point, that scabrous blight and ubiquitous crutch, permits presenters to bore and bewilder their audiences by projecting on a screen an outline of the words that they faithfully utter. They might as well hand out their notes!

The key insight of Beyond Bullet Points stresses the importance of using PowerPoint to impart a story and to reinforce the telling of the story with images. The book recommends organizing presentations along the lines of a screenplay, using the three-act structure that Aristotle posited millennia ago in his writings on rhetoric and persuasion.

Does this technique work? Give it a try and judge for yourself. Say you want to convince your firm to take a patent case on a contingency basis. Maybe you depict the goal of the lawsuit as recovering royalties — the Golden Fleece. The trial team may take the guise of Argonauts and the lawsuit a journey to get the Fleece back. Pictures could represent the conflict, the perils of the voyage, and the rewards of success. And Pollux, a great pugilist, might even show up as the victor in, say, a Markman hearing.

Sure, the Beyond Bullet Points approach can come off as a little too precious. But I tried it and liked the results. The mediator who saw it said my presentation "was hokey, but I loved it."

By the way, Castor and Pollux give Beyond Bullet Points one and a half stars. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy.

Barry Barnett

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