We lawyers are told to use narrative to advocate for our clients and persuade decision-makers. But, nobody ever taught us how to tell great stories. That’s all about to change.
Imagine we are hunkered down at our favorite bar. I throw back a shot and say, “Man, have I got a story for you.” Your eyes get big. You adjust your stool, lean in, and buckle up for what is sure to be an incredible ride. I begin…
I woke up this morning and realized I had no food in the house. So, I drove to the grocery store. Got a great parking spot. Right up front. Then, I went in, grabbed a basket, and went to town, man. First, I got cucumbers. Next, I rolled on down aisle two for soup. Oh, my, I forgot the best part. They had a buy-one-get-one deal on my favorite cookies! Anyway, I ﬁnished and headed to the checkout. I said, “good day” to the cashier, she smiled at me. I loaded up the car, and home I went!
Is this narrative? How did this make you feel? Did you care even a little bit? Were you bored silly waiting for something, anything to happen? Were you annoyed with me for wasting your time? Even though it had a beginning, middle and end, it was fundamentally lacking in proper narrative structure.
If your “story” consists only of, “this happened and then this happened,” then it’s not really a story, at least not one worth telling. It’s just a string of stuff lacking conflict or consequence. It’s wasted breath and wasted opportunity. To borrow a reference from my favorite show of all time, The Simpsons, it’s an escalator to nowhere. It’s NON-narrative! That’s because the word “AND” could have connected every single sentence of this lame paragraph. The problem is, we never got to a “but” or a “therefore.”
Don’t get me wrong; “AND” is an important element in narrative structure. It is “the setup” material. It establishes an “ordinary world” and sets the stakes for the series of events that are yet to come. Then, that ordinary world must be upended with some kind of conflict or contradiction that truly swings your story into motion– this is what we call the “BUT”. The “but” is the central problem or obstacle to overcome. The resolution of that problem is what we call the “THEREFORE”.
That’s narrative structure in a nutshell: And, But & Therefore, or “ABT” for short.
The ABT is the DNA of story, and it can be found in all great communication. It was “codified” by story expert Dr. Randy Olson in his Book, Houston We Have a Narrative. But, that book was geared to the science community. Therefore, I stalked Randy, convinced him that the legal community badly needed the ABT, and voila! We partnered together to write The Narrative Gym For Law: Introducing the ABT Framework for Persuasive Advocacy!
So, what does the ABT have to offer lawyers and legal professionals?
Lawyers are problem-solvers. Narrative is simply the expression of the problem/solution dynamic. That’s all great story is– a problem in search of a solution: Elliot discovers an alien, and they become best friends. But, the creature is going to die if he stays. Therefore, Elliot has to phone home, outwit the government and say goodbye to his friend forever. Setup, problem, solution. When we view our cases and all of our communication through the lens of ABT, we become persuasion powerhouses.
Our clients have unique and important stories to tell. When we tell them well, we achieve incredible results. We are already experts in the “and” material. But, in order to activate the brain, engage the listener, and create connection, we need to understand and implement the rest of the narrative equation. Therefore, if you want to avoid running your case off a cliff (or an escalator to nowhere), it’s time to learn more about the ABT.
If you do find the ABT useful, please comment below! Also, I wanted to let you know my new podcast, Set For Sentencing is launching at the end of the month. You can subscribe on all major platforms, and youtube, NOW!