By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Many hold that stories are essential to effective communication, and I am among them. Especially in litigation, there is a natural role for stories as a glue holding together the facts and the law, the ethics and the evidence, the logic and the persuasion. I believe that and apply it in my practice every day. So when I heard about Tyler Cowen's TED talk encouraging people to distrust and to rely less on stories, I approached it with some suspicion. When I viewed the remarks on YouTube, it was with an eye toward refuting Dr. Cowen. As I listened to the economics professor's remarks, I found myself rejecting some parts of his argument. Rather than being "a kind of candy," "a kind of mental laziness," or "a kind of self-deception," it seems more likely that stories are an unavoidable part of cognition and the way we make sense of the world. But I found myself agreeing with other sentiments, like the tendency of stories to sometimes invent intention, and to make "the mess" that is life appear to be unrealistically organized and driven by clear plot lines. I considered the possibility that maybe we do rely on stories as a crutch, particularly in complex litigation, to simplify things that ought not be simplified. Then I thought, "Oh my god, what if he is right?" because up to this point in the blog post, all I've been doing is telling a story.
In the end, looking at the ways Tyler Cowen's thoughts apply to narratives in litigation, I found some things to keep and some things to set aside. In this post, I share some thoughts on adapting storytelling to the legal realm, and importantly, adopting to a legal audience's potential skepticism toward stories.