How Do I Prepare a Narrative for a Legal Case?

A good narrative sets the stage for a legal case.
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A good legal narrative succinctly summarizes the key points of a case in a compelling and easily understood way. If you graduate and become an attorney, writing a compelling narrative can help you capture the attention of the judge and gain early control over the facts of the case. Aim to keep your narrative short, incorporating only facts that you can prove and steering clear of irrelevant side points and stories.

1 Statement of Facts

Your narrative should begin with a statement of facts, and if you're writing a formal pleading, the statement of facts should include numbered paragraphs -- one numbered paragraph for each substantive fact. Begin by introducing the parties and explaining their roles. For example, "Ms. Smith is a public school teacher who was fired by Mr. Cooley on November 7, 2012." The statement of facts introduces your reader to the players in your case as well as relevant locations so that the narrative section will be easier to understand.

2 Consider the Law

Your narrative should be written with an eye toward your legal arguments. For example, it might seem unfair that a person was fired for smoking, but this is not a form of discrimination and so is irrelevant. Instead, only incorporate the facts that are relevant to your legal argument. Otherwise, your reader can end up confused and your narrative can be needlessly long. At the same time, the narrative should tell the reader why the material is important or germane to the case, preparing him to better understand the testimony and arguments he will hear as the case proceeds.

3 Tell a Compelling Story

While your narrative should be heavily peppered with facts, it should flow logically from one point to the next by providing dates and context. For example, if a person was fired in a situation that might seem threatening -- such as in an abandoned warehouse -- mention this. Your narrative should evoke an emotional reaction without relying on emotional arguments. Your side should clearly come across as the "good guy," and the other side's behavior should seem legally unjustified.

4 Avoid Opinion and Emotion

Your legal narrative should be airtight, consisting only of facts that you can easily document. It is not the place to insert inflammatory language, opinion or emotion. For example, rather than saying, "Mr. Cooley callously and maliciously fired Ms. Smith due to his own sexism," say, "Mr. Cooley explicitly told Ms. Smith he was firing her because of her sex." You don't know the opinions or biases of the person who will be reading your narrative, so relying on conjecture can be a risky strategy. Instead, stick to the facts of the case, and only the facts relevant to your legal argument.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.