Typical openings begin at . . . well . . . the beginning. Elaborate timelines, both electronic and coreboard, occupy their prominent spot in front of the box so that jurors can track the events of the case. After an introduction, each story element falls in line as either a cause or an effect until a conclusion wraps up the story into an ending bundle.

But what if your case’s biggest point is the second effect on the timeline? What if it gets buried among the other elements?

ANSWER:  nonlinear storytelling—in medias res—Latin for “in the midst of things”. It is a storytelling structure as old as the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Divine ComedyLord of the Rings, and Groundhog Day.

  • To do this, build your opening story just as you always would, but then ask yourself, “what if I started here—somewhere in the middle?”
    • “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, my client is here because her business lost $13 million at the hands of . . .” [start at the ultimate effect]
    • “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, the defendants made a secret agreement . . .” [start at a middle cause]
  • Now, you have created a cliff-hanger. You can follow up with things like . . .
    • “But, I have gotten ahead of myself . . .”
    • “’Why would they do such a thing?’ One might ask him/herself . . .”

Why bother with this?

ANSWER:  Nonlinear storytelling . . .

  1. Helps emphasize the most important case story elements right up front;
  2. Creates intrigue or suspense. Intrigue and suspense [both Aristotelian story techniques] creates listener involvement. It makes people wonder “How did it get like that?” or “How could that be?”;
  3. Research clearly shows that memory does not store information by chronology;
    • Research also shows that an event is more memorable if it “flips” our thinking. For example, a juror might think “Sure, all of us lost money in 2008. So what?”  But if the answer to “so what” is a conspiracy among competitors, then that “flip” makes the conspiracy stand out.
  4. Desensitizes jurors to  damage figures—get the “sticker shock” out of the way first, then show how those numbers are justified/reasonable;
  5. Video games and electronic stories with hyperlinks do not follow a chronological timeline. Many jurors now are e-Readers and game-players used to nonlinear thinking.

What if the first line of Little Red Riding Hood was, “Grandma, what big teeth you have!”, would you pay attention? Would that fact stand out? Would you want to know why such a question even got posed?

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