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Trial Advocacy Goes to the Movies: The Screenplay


 This is the first in a series of articles that takes trial advocacy to the movies. These articles, like a play has three acts.


     How to incorporate the elements of four-star screenplays into your story. 


     How to prepare the actors. 


     How to perform like a star at each stage of trial. 

Your role changes as we move from Act to Act. For the Screenplay, you are the screen writer and cinematographer. For the Casting and Rehearsal, you become the DIRECTOR. For Act 3 – the Performances, you become the ACTOR.

Here we concentrate on ACT 1.  THE SCREENPLAY 

How do you incorporate the elements of four-star screenplays into your story. It all starts with the SCRIPT—THE  STORY. We call our trial story, the “CASE THEORY” As the trial advocacy guru and author James W. McElhaney says in his book McElhaney’s Trial Notebook: “The theory of the case is a product of the advocate.  It is the basic concept around which everything revolves.”

The CASE THEORY has TWO COMPONENTS—LEGAL THEORY and FACTUAL THEORY. The legal theory is what’s charged in a criminal case, robbery, murder, whatever crime and what’s alleged in a civil case, negligence, breach of contract. Or from a defense perspective in a criminal case, self-defense or in a civil case, contributory negligence, and so on.

The FACTUAL THEORY has two subparts—the factual theory must be both sufficient and persuasive. Sufficient—every lawyer understands need to prove enough facts to support the legal theory. But, for the actual story to prevail, more is needed. It must b a persuasive story.

A persuasive story for trial has all of the same elements of a good movie script.

ELEMENT NUMBER 1 Above all else, both a good movie script and a good story for trial needs to be a HUMAN STORY.

Now, we are going to watch the prosecution tell a HUMAN STORY in  the movie THE STAIRCASE. The movie was directed by Academy Award®-winning French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. 

Now, let’s the prosecutor tell the story of the case.


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