Litigation Is Melodrama


Litigation Is Melodrama, Not Just Drama

In telling the narrative of any litigation, the attorney must have some understanding of how to succinctly structure a melodrama, not just a drama.

Succinct Drama

I think one of the easiest ways to understand succinct drama is to pay attention to song lyrics that tell a story. The arc of the story is accomplished in two or three verses (the story line "themes"), while the chorus and bridge provide the moral or emotional "themes."  A great song filters the story into an economy of words. In the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" we learn of the almost pathetically isolated lives of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, with the central "all the lonely people" emotional theme repeating in the chorus. A masterpiece of storytelling completed in only two minutes and seven seconds.  (You Tube, Click Below)

Eleanor Rigby

Yet Eleanor Rigby, while dramatic, is not constructed as a litigation melodrama.  As listeners we do not find a clear victim.  There is something that feels wrong about the lives of these almost pathetic characters, a sense of hopelessness in the story, but as listeners we do not know if it is "fixable" or how to fix it. 


Jurors expect a story that is not just dramatic, but melodramatic-- stories of persecutors and victims, and the heroes that save the victims.

Jurors are interested in total justice--holistic justice.  The jury must be invited into the melodrama to right a wrong and/or protect the public further wrong from being done.  The juror has not "signed up" for this role, the juror has been conscripted into it. The attorney does not want the juror to feel the situation is hopeless and nothing can be done to fix it.

Think about the Faye Dunaway character in "Three Days of the Condor." She has been kidnapped by the CIA file reader analyst played by Robert Redford and has to figure out if he is a good guy or a bad guy.  THEN, she has to further decide if she is going to help him.  


The juror comes into the courtroom often feeling "kidnapped" and wanting to escape.  The attorney has to inspire the juror to drop the feeling of being held against his/her will and become part of the battle for justice.    


Litigation in which the good and the bad actors are easily identified typically settle.  Cases ending up in the courtroom tend to be much more nuanced melodramas.  And there's the rub.   


The attorney is tasked with creating succinct verses with a clear victim and persecutor, and enlisting the listener juror as the rescuing hero.  The moral theme of the chorus has to be correct and worth fighting for. 


Moral Conundrums

The attorney must identify and deal with all aspects of the nuanced moral conundrums to be successful.

In the current GOP campaign Mitt Romney has been trying to thread a needle in discussing the difference between understandable (and he says admirable) tax avoidance, and dishonorable (if marginally legal) tax evasion using financial entities in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere.  Will jurors see him as a righteous business person victimized by public scrutiny, or the embodiment of a victimizer who makes money  from the suffering of others and then amplifies his profits by sheltering them off shore?   Now, that's the kind of stuff we see in courtroom litigation all the time.