August 01, 2012

On the Papers: Controlling the Reader’s Perception of Your Client’s Story

An author is often the worst person in the world to estimate how others will read a sentence.

George D. Gopen

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During my first week of law school, we were shown a highly effective teaching film. It pictured a car accident taking place at an intersection. The camera’s perspective was from the southeast corner. It was clear to us that X was at fault, and Y was the hapless victim. After a brief disquisition on liability, we were shown the scene again, this time shot from the northwest corner. It became apparent to us that we had it all wrong: Y was at fault, and X was the hapless victim. Now we were privy to “the truth.” Then we saw the scene a third time—from the northeast corner, from where it was clear that nothing was clear. From that angle, liability was impossible to assign. Where stories are concerned, perspective makes all the difference.

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