The art and law of storytelling

I recently had a most enlightening experience from a very unlikely source. I was a guest at a law conference, where I was hoping to enjoy a lovely weekend at a resort on the ocean and a couple of luxurious spa treatments. However, I never made it to the spa and barely noticed the ocean view because I got completely caught up in actually attending the sessions. Unbeknownst to me beforehand, the theme of this particular conference was “The Art of Storytelling” – which, when you come to think of it, is an intriguing topic for almost anyone, and on so many levels. I was all in.

And then it got even better. They hired great storytellers to teach the lawyers how to be great storytellers. By that, I mean that they used “actors” to teach real-life lawyers how to be better lawyers. Who would have thought you could hone your real-life craft by learning from great pretenders? It was brilliant! The audience was introduced to actors and screenwriters from some of the great TV shows – some in person (really fun!), and some via numerous clips from law shows.

I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and later became a great fan of law-centered TV shows. I remember “Perry Mason,” but my obsession with law shows really kicked in with “L.A. Law,” followed by “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” I also suffered a brief, shameful dalliance with “Ally McBeal,” which I can barely admit to today.

I didn’t actually realize it at the time, but now I can see that what attracted me the most were the closing arguments. The writing was so compelling. When the defense presented its case, I became convinced it was right. And then the plaintiff would present his or her argument and blow holes in the defense, and I did a 180 and believed that side. I am not a lawyer myself, so I remained oblivious for the most part to the nuances of the actual accuracy in those arguments, but I didn’t care. Great storytelling is great storytelling.

In real life, court cases can drag on for days or months and are often onerous with dry, linear, factual details presented in a running monotone. In the entertainment industry, on the other hand, all of that time is compressed into sound bites that are presented with emotion and compelling hooks that draw you in and make you believe.

As a lawyer, one might want to reject the old approach in favor of using great storytelling that may distort data beyond recognition but produce an “aha” moment in the minds of listeners. Hollywood, of course, has always known this and was now sharing the “how-to” with the people who may need it most.

For those of us who love a great story – whether it’s a book, a movie or a TV show – learning more about how a story is constructed and delivered can enlighten our world, whatever our purpose or profession. I’m just saying … some people may call it “spin,” but it is a kind of magic that, when properly understood and practiced, can enrich many aspects of our lives. And a side perk may be that you become a much sought-after guest at dinner parties, where everyone wants to be seated next to you.

Sharon Lennox-Infante is a Certified Life Coach who lives and works in Los Altos. For more information, visit

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