American Trial Lawyers continued the Festival's 14-year attention to the folklife of occupational groups through presentation of and discussions about working skills, social organization, and lore. Lawyers can also be considered as storytellers in a profound sense: the stories they construct in court - the narratives of events and the interpretations of them - are meant to resonate with values held by jury members. Through reason and eloquence, lawyers engage jurors' sympathies for one side or the other, and that resonance between courtroom argument and social values is a mechanism of justice.
Like traditional storytellers, lawyers in jury trials have their own distinctive styles and approaches to telling stories; they compose them from a small stock of basic plots, using techniques perfected by generations of their predecessors; and they improvise from moment to moment as they perform. And, like storytellers, they address the great need societies have to comprehend the extremes of human action and human nature in a way that sustains belief in a moral order.
In the course of successive trials during their career, skilled lawyers develop a formidable repertoire of verbal artistry and strategies for conducting cases. Mastery of the art of trial work, however, is not a state that can be permanently achieved. It has to be accomplished again and again, in the consuming task of reaching each new jury. All the rules of the law and all the preparation of a case only provide a structure for the trial. What actually happens in the courtroom depends on how the lawyers seize the dynamics of the situation and adapt to them as the trial progresses from moment to moment.
In a mock courtoom installed on the Festival site, trial lawyers with lengthy experience and consummate skill demonstrated and discussed how they use language to construct such narratives and to convince jurors, inviting Festival visitors behind the scenes of a trial.
Samuel Schrager served as American Trial Lawyers Program Curator, with Joanne Mulcahy as Program Coordinator.
American Trial Lawyers was supported by a two-year grant from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.