Discover the Story


Last Saturday I spent the day in a hotel ballroom watching Zoe Littlepage and Rainey Booth discuss their approach to visual storytelling. When the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) announced this event last month, I signed up right away for an exhibit table. After all, visual storytelling is what Fat Pencil Studio is all about, and I wanted to be in the same room as attorneys who also believe in the importance of this approach.

Zoe and Rainey conduct their PowerPoint slides like an orchestra, which made for a very engaging presentation. I jotted down a few of their tips (some of which we’ve suggested to clients on many occasions, but it was sure nice to hear a respected attorney talking along the same lines). For example, Zoe Littlepage uses a strategy of “One visual - One point - One phrase - One slide.”

She illustrated her point using a recent case involving toxic cabin air in Boeing jets. First she displayed a jargon-filled slide with eight bullet points: an example of what not to do. Then came a series of individual photos and diagrams that were very effective in explaining key issues in the case. For instance, the image below simply shows how outside air was drawn in through the engine compartment where it mixed with toxic chemicals before supplying the cabin—obviously a bad situation for people on the flight.

Looking at my second page of notes, I see three words—“Discover the Story”—with a box around them. Rainey Booth attributed these words to Gerry Spence, a legendary attorney and founder of the non-profit Trial Lawyer’s College. In his book, Win Your Case, Spence opines:

If we are to be successful in presenting our case we must not only discover its story, we must become good storytellers as well. Every trial, every presentation, every plea for change, every argument for justice is a story.

Spence goes on to explain how to "discover the story" by projecting oneself into a clients experience, using present tense language, and taking the time to really listen, think, and care about what happened.

As I write this, I am thinking of the visual tools that Fat Pencil Studio creates, and how they provide a powerful way to discover the a client’s story. When I explain our work to an attorney for the first time, I am often met with an assumption that visuals are only useful for trial. But if you truly care about your client, doesn’t it make sense to use the very best tools possible to discover the story at the outset and use that information to hone your strategy? This year, we'll be writing and speaking about visual tools appropriate for use early in a case. These aren’t flashy or terribly expensive. They are tremendously effective at discovering the details necessary to tell a great story.


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio