And now, my notes from trial lawyer Jim Perdue’s talk on “Winning with Stories”, with light editing.

Don’t talk about burden of proof. Speak instead of more likely than not. Many people think you need better proof to take money from a defendant than to put him in jail.

Reasonable conduct does not mean moderate. It means good conduct based on reason.

Will a verdict for my side make the world a better place?

Primacy rule refers not to what you first hear but what you first believe.

Things to do:

Start strong. Let them know where you intend to go and what you expect them to do. Begin with a hook to grab attention.

Set out rules of the road. We cannot have a civilized society without rules. Start with an indisputable scientific principle, one with which any reasonable expert would agree. (“Pitocin is a powerful drug.”). State the rule (“Pitocin should be administered only on a doctor’s order.”) You have to explain the reason for a rule (“Only a medical doctor has the knowledge and experience to prescribe it.”). How did the defendant break the rule (“The nurse administered Pitocin without a doctor’s approval.”)

Simplify facts.

Set the scene.

Tie it all together with a theme.

Complete the circle with the closing.

When you put up text on a screen, you take yourself out of the story. Maybe use images in opening but not text. Therefore you must work the rules of the road into the story you tell. You may say for those of you taking notes, you may want to write this down.

Say that if you follow the rules that our side suggests, the baby is never hurt. But if you follow the other side’s rules, there is a big danger of brain-damaging the baby.


When we’re born, we have a reptilian brain. It helps us to survive. Later we have the brain that lets us move around. Later we get the cognitive brain.

The reptile brain asks can I eat it, or can it eat me? Have to find reptilian truth of your case.

The Culture Code. We have code words for everything. Doctor = hero, hospital = processing plant. Limbic system. Jurors don’t know why they do what they do.

Jury research

Your kind of story-teller.

Good: How it happened.

Better: Why it happened.

Best: How it felt.

How do you start?

Most begin with the protagonist. Risks attribution bias. Jury will go back and second-guess what the protagonist did. You should always talk about the antagonist first.

Example of the John Wayne movie, Big Jake. Saw the bad guys (kidnapping Big Jake’s grandson) first, before you ever see the good guy.

You know you have a good story when you can say to the jury that I don’t have to tell you what happened next. Then you can talk about the protagonist.

Figure out how it looked. But with a view to getting people to know how it felt. Sense of smell has closest link to the subconscious mind.

Don’t be the lawyer-man. Be the human being.

When you get to the critical scene in your case, tell it in the present tense. It involves the jurors. It enables you to do amazing things. It lets you use the concept of psychodrama. You can tell the bad actor not to do the thing she did. Gives jurors the ability to take action.

Character and types

Everything in the courtroom is about character. Defense lawyers try to find out all the bad things about the plaintiff and bring them out. You have to find the good qualities.

Misfortune without fault. Frank Galvin in The Verdict.

The rescuer. People love rescuers. John Wayne didn’t give up.

Get to know your clients. Don’t say she was a good mother. Have her tell the stories that show she was a good mother. Vignettes and anecdotes.

Sacrifices on principle. Find how your protagonist sacrifices.

Dependable. American Film Institute picked Atticus Finch as the greatest movie hero.

Negative qualities of the antagonist.

Selfishness. Joan Crawford.

Greed. Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life.

Betrayal. Corleone.

Hogging credit without doing the work.


Jurors want to know why plaintiff brought the lawsuit. Can’t be just about the money. You have to have an honorable motive.

We don’t want to be here. We want our son back. If we could get specific performance, we would leave now.


Have to have cognitive themes, which hold facts together. Focus groups disclose them. One drink too many. Make it memorable and consistent with concepts of fairness and justice and carries a strong causal connection. Wrong person did the wrong thing at the wrong time.

What you project in court.

Have to project credibility and charisma.

Charisma is very important. Hans the German farmer’s horse.

Watch eye contact. You must connect.

Care for others.

Don’t interrupt. Show genuine interest in others. Offer a glass of water.

Respect for the lesser. Everybody deserves respect. Decent and hard-working people deserve your respect.

Simple, direct, and concise language.

Self-confidence and assurance.




View of the broader scheme of things.

Positive outlook. Always smile.