An Innovative Approach to Legal Education With Storytelling

Recognizing that storytelling is a critical skill in the practice of law, BYU Law is taking an innovative approach to legal education and is implementing an initiative to teach its students the theory and practice of storytelling. LawStories rests on three core pillars: LawReads, Proximate Cause, and LawStories on the Mainstage.

“The deeper I delve in the study of story, the more I become convinced that it is a necessary part of legal education,” said Gordon Smith, dean of BYU Law.

LawReads is a book of the semester experience, intended to initiate deeper reflection on the role of law in human affairs. This school year, the BYU Law community read Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street and The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. BYU Law held a panel discussion to discuss the themes and ideas in Black Edge. Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, visited BYU Law to lecture on his book and provide additional insight.

Proximate Cause is a storytelling competition designed to extend BYU Law students the opportunity to share an experience when they discovered or acted on their own proximate cause. These are true stories and telling them helps to imbue student’s legal education with meaning and purpose. This past November, six stories were selected and put to a vote in the BYU Law community. The judges’ choice was “Each of Us” written by third-year law student, Cate Mumford. Third-year Katie Rane, took home the readers’ choice award with her piece, “Draw Me a Picture/Hazme un Dibujo.” The full stories can be read here.

Mumford said of the experience: “The Proximate Cause competition helped me feel like there was another forum for my voice to be heard at the school.”

LawStories on the Mainstage is a national storytelling initiative for law students to share a true story about their life and the law. Participants are encouraged to create a story that has a narrative arc and illustrates growth, change, or a perceptual shift. In March, ten individuals from law schools across the country were selected to record their story at BYU Radio, present to a live audience, and attend a workshop with nationally recognized storyteller, Sam Payne, host of BYU Radio’s The Apple Seed: Tellers and Stories.

There are many resources available to assist students in developing their storytelling skills. BYU Law has partnered with the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute and the Leadership Story Lab, a national organization created to help individuals and organizations leverage the art of persuasive storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities. Online, students have access to Leadership Story Lab materials that blend classical storytelling elements with cutting edge social science insights.

In addition, BYU Law brings in professionals from the storytelling and law space to give lectures and workshops on developing storytelling skills. Guests have included  Eli McCann, an associate at Kirton McConkie Attorneys at Law in Salt Lake City, who also writes and produces the “Strangerville” podcast; and Kim Weitkamp, humorist, author, speaker, and storyteller who consults businesses nationwide on how to tell their story.

Dean Smith recently wrote a letter for the spring 2019 issue of the Clark Memorandum: “The stories we tell about others frame how we think about the world. The stories we tell about ourselves describe our place in that world. Stories have been crucial to my own professional and personal identity formation, and I wonder if the most important consequence of our LawStories initiative is not that we will create better lawyers, but that we will create better people.”

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