Course Details

Narrative Structures Law, Literature, Journalism, Film

This course will compare the narrative techniques of lawyers, novelists, journalists, and film directors. In particular, the course will explore the devices used by lawyers to tell stories as the means of persuasion in the trial of cases, in comparison to the approaches of "non-adversarial" narrators. Trial attorneys are often condemned as deceivers and flimflam artists who use sly rhetoric to bamboozle witnesses, turning night into day. In this conception, lawyers tell stories only to seduce and beguile the hapless jurors who fall prey to the advocatestricks. Critics believe that the system would be better and more honest if the witnesses were simply asked to speak, without the distorting interventions of counsel. The contrasting view is that lawyers employ the techniques of narrative construction to enhance the truth, not hide it, in the same way that other narrative professions use story development to convey ideas. A well conceived trial story may actually result in an account that is "truer" in important respects than the witness's unmediated version of events. We will study the process by which a trial lawyer takes raw material, as it might be presented or perceived by a client, and shapes it into a coherent narrative through a process of inclusion and omission. This craft has been roundly criticized from both the right and the left. Conservative lawyer-bashers complain that lawyers teach their clients how to lie and dissemble. Critical theorists, in contrast, complain that lawyers stifle the true voices of their clients in favor of the hegemonic narratives required by the law. The class will consider whether perspective both criticisms may be wrong. Evaluation: Final examination Text: None. Posted materials. Tentative materials: READINGS Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter Louis Begley, Wartime Lies Michael Frayn, Spies Graham Burnett, A Trial by Jury Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Janet Malcolm, The Crime of Sheila McGough Course packet materials FILMS The Caine Mutiny The Last Detail The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Philadelphia Rashomon Shane

Catalog Number: LAWSTUDY 642
Practice Areas: Perspective viewpoint
Additional Course Information: Open to First Year Students,  Perspective Elective

Course History


Spring 2014
Title: Narrative Structures Law, Literature, Journalism, Film
Faculty: Lubet, Steven (courses | profile)
Section: 1     Credits: 3.0
Capacity: 65     Actual: 39


Spring 2013
Title: Narrative Structures Law, Literature, Journalism, Film
Faculty: Lubet, Steven (courses | profile)
Section: 1     Credits: 3.0
Capacity: 65     Actual: 45


Spring 2012
Title: Narrative Structures
Faculty: Lubet, Steven (courses | profile)
Section: 1     Type: Lecture     Credits: 3.0
Capacity: 65     Actual: 49