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The Power of Legal Narrative

Unless you’ve been living off the grid, you know that TED talks are wildly popular. One reason why is that each carefully scripted presentation tells a succinct 20-minute story. The audience moves with the speaker through the narrative arc. They are shown, not told, about a perspective they may not have considered before. They listen enraptured, eager to know more.

Fittingly, "The Power of Personal Narrative" TED Talk by Elan Morgan.

John Hagel, who joined Deloitte Touche USA LLP to found and serve as co-chairman of its Silicon Valley based research center, says this:

“Firstly, stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Narratives on the other hand are open-ended – the outcome is unresolved, yet to be determined. Second, stories are about me, the storyteller, or other people; they are not about you. In contrast, the resolution of narratives depends on the choice you make and the actions you take – you will determine the outcome.”

Hagel points to Nike and Apple as two companies that excel at narrative. Nike’s “Just Do It” and Apple’s “Think Differently” put the power in the hands of the consumer, with the corporate entity as the enabler, not the primary actor.

Your law firm narrative needs to be more than your firm’s history and a recitation of corporate values. It needs to be a compelling tale of how and why the firm serves its clients as it does, and the gratification the firm draws from the privilege of working with its clients. Show your clients that their needs are your first priority and you have the special skills to help them., at a rational and emotional level.

Consider this collateral: “Our law firm has unparalleled depth in biosciences and pharma. More than 40% of our lawyers have advanced degrees in the biosciences. We’ve filed 2,500 patents to date. We live and breathe Hatch-Waxman. Our practice sweeps the globe.”

Now, this: “Jenny Chin, then age 8, had an aggressive form of bone cancer that was difficult to treat. Our client, Amazing Bio Startup, developed a drug it believed could help patients like Jenny. We patented the compound, prevailed on re-examination of the patent, shepherded the drug through FDA trials and review, and wrote the licensing agreements that led to its development and sale. Today, thanks to Amazing Bio Startup, Jenny is in the fourth grade and argues with her parents about cello lessons. That’s what patent law means to us.”

Again, the focus is on the end consumer—Jenny and her family. It's all about the law firm’s client, and that client’s achievements. Most importantly, this narrative is a story that will resonate with the client we fleshed out in my previous post, the client persona, Shaun. S/he is a family-oriented attorney who has three children, whose partner has had a cancer scare, and who has a soft spot for social justice issues. This narrative would appeal to their core values.

Find those stories in your practice and in your firm. You’ve likely won water rights for farmers, protected the interests of struggling mom-and-pop franchisees, or helped a tech company prosper, while adding millions of dollars to the local economy and a donation to the local community foundation These are feel-good stories that create market impact.

Your narrative is there. You just need to unearth it.


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