TRIAL THEMES AND THE RULE OF THREE
Here are some random writings and comments about trial themes for you to consider:
“Research in education, communications, psychology, anthropology and cognitive science has given scientific basis to what good storytellers and trial lawyers already know: Themes are critical for helping an audience organize the information they receive and make decisions based on that information.
To persuade a jury, an attorney must develop case themes that help organize the diverse case facts and convey the case theory. Developing persuasive and powerful case themes can be aided by trial consultants who understand themes already circulating in that community and in the general culture that relate to the trial issues.”
Susan Farina has written in “Developing a Trial Theme that Sticks” the following:
A compelling theme should be the backbone of every trial strategy. A trial theme allows for the presentation of evidence in a manner designed to educate and, ultimately, help persuade a jury to determine facts in a client’s favor. This article addresses and combines two concepts: (1) “thin-slicing”—the act of reaching immediate, unconscious conclusions that influence behavior; and (2) “sticky” ideas.
Another commentator has said: A trial lawyer must strive to capture the jurors’ attention and leave an impression that lasts long after the jury instructions have been given and the deliberations have begun. To be effective, the lawyer must present the evidence, testimonial and non-testimonial, and his (or her) version of the story by way of the opening statement and closing argument in a logical and comprehensive manner. It should allow the jury to process and make sense of it. If the lawyers do not present a logical and believable story of what happened, the jurors will come up with an explanation of their own.
It has been observed that jurors in a personal injury case are looking for an answer to three basic questions: (1) What is this case all about? (i.e., Who got hurt? How?) (2) Why did it happen? (e.g., Negligent driving, Defective product, Medical malpractice, etc.) and (3) Why are we here? (Liability.) A theme can pull these together as a prevailing concept about what the case is all about. It can aide in focusing the jury and in maintaining continuity.
The idea that for good communication material should be presented in units of three has been written about and discussed many times. Commonly referred to as “the rule of threee” here are some observations about the concept.
“Maybe you learned about the rule in math or writing class (or in comedy clubs)? If not, a recent issue of Search Insider eloquently sums up the power of the rule of three. As columnist Gord Hotchkiss writes, “We humans tend to think in triplets. Three is a good number to wrap our mind around, and we see it in all kinds of instances. We tend to remember points best when given in groups of three, we scan visual elements best when they come in threes, and we like to have three options to consider. Think how often three comes up in our society: three little pigs, three strikes, three doors on ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ three competitive quotes. It’s a trio-ordered world out there.”
And, once you get attuned to the rule of three, you find that it’s being used everywhere: In speeches and plays: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” – William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In slogans and titles:“Stop, look and listen” “Sex, lies and videotape” And even in comedy. As John Kinde writes on his website, humorpower.com, the rule of three is particularly useful in comedy writing because “a funny line . . . is like a train wreck. You know where the train has been, you think you know where it’s going, but then you’re surprised when it goes off track.” So the rule of three sets up the joke and makes it memorable. Like the tee-shirt that reads, “World Class Cities: Paris. Rome. Fargo” The third thing is the kicker that creates the joke.
So, to sum up, here are three things to remember about the rule of three: It creates simplicity, aids recall and makes your job easier.
Another observation about the rule of three is: “The rule of three is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader/audience to this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans (“Go, fight, win!”) to films, many things are structured in threes. Examples include The Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Three Blind Mice.
A series of three is often used to create a progression in which the tension is created, then built up, and finally released. Similarly, adjectives are often grouped together in threes in order to emphasize an idea.” What’s so magical about the number three? It’s no accident that the number three is pervasive throughout some of our greatest stories, fairy tales and myths.
It’s also no coincidence that some of the most famous quotes from throughout history are structured in three parts, nor is it surprising that the Rule of Three also works wonders in the world of comedy.
It all comes down to the way we humans process information. We have become proficient at pattern recognition by necessity, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. This combination of pattern and brevity results in memorable content, and that’s why the Rule of Three will make you a more engaging writer and story teller. Have you ever wondered:
What the three little pigs, the three blind mice, Goldilocks and the three bears, the Three Musketeers, the three wise men and the Three Stooges have in common? Or why the three-act structure is the dominant approach to screenwriting in Hollywood? Or why three bullet points are more effective than two or four? “The rule of three is powerful speech writing technique that you should learn, practice, and master.
Using the Rule of Three allows you to express concepts more completely, emphasize your points, and increase the memorability of your message: That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
So where has all this been leading us? Simply that focusing your message on no more than three significant points, and repeating them in different ways throughout your presentation, is certain to give your presentation the maximum impact. Using The Rule of Three is powerful.
So, there you have it. Spend time developing a description of what the case is all about in a theme. Make sure your charts, your PowerPoint and your exhibits have no more than three items per document.
One thought on “TRIAL THEMES AND THE RULE OF THREE”
This is a fantastic article, Paul. Thank you. I always thought there was something special about the “Rule of Three” and I will begin implementing it more in my jury trials and report the results.