Legal Storytelling

Christopher Harding and Nathelie Tudberry: Taking Law to a New Readership as Public Legal Education

Raising the Teepee

Responding to the now perceived need for an improved public legal education, this is an initiative to enhance general public awareness and understanding of law and legal issues through the telling of legal stories based on significant legal cases and problems. The stories are aimed at different readerships ranging from non-expert adult through to much younger age groups.

Law is often misguidedly regarded as a specialist subject and discipline, and therefore technical and difficult and not easily accessible.  It has a limited presence in school education, being reserved for the most part for university level education and professional training. Yet in social and personal terms it is an important aspect of everyday life  and experience, and an understanding and knowledge of law should be within the reach of all classes and age groups within civil society (an idea informing the Napoleonic codifications).Recently the British Government has recognised the need for an enhanced ‘public legal education’, something before and beyond specialist  legal education and training. All legal issues and problems, whether arising through negotiation or dispute, also comprise narratives, often competing and different narratives relating to the same facts  and circumstances. Narratives of law, or legal stories, are therefore important in gaining knowledge and understanding of the subject. Any legal argument will be based on a certain narrative of a situation or case. Such legal narratives are thus an essential part of the subject and can be exploited in the explanation and discussion of what is happening in law and how it should be understood.

The work being carried out here is a particular initiative in legal narration and story-telling. It seeks to present what may be regarded as technical and conceptual legal issues in a way that could be accessible to non-expert readerships, both adult and younger age groups. Various categorisations may be employed, such as legal fairy tales and children’s stories, and there is a wide range of possible formats and media which may be considered (in particular, illustrations accompanying written text). The main challenge is to achieve effective communication of the subject to the target readership, and successfully engage and maintain the interest and attention of such readerships and audiences. A number of drafts have been completed, using different formats and styles with different categories of readership in mind. Usually the stories are based on leading cases in different fields of law.

Some testing of these drafts has already been carried out, for instance with children as listeners/readers, and that has proven instructive. Notably, it has confirmed a lack of awareness  regarding the role of lawyers and judges, compared to a greater familiarity with the role of e.g. teachers, doctors, soldiers or wizards. That serves to confirm the existence of a gap in early public legal education which may be addressed through such story-telling.

We anticipate moving fairly soon to some first publication of such work in the children's literature market, and some further testing and discussion of our work in this area, for instance at the Applied Legal Story Telling Conference at Boulder, Colorado in July 2019.

Some samples of this work, aimed at an adult, non-expert readership, may be seen at the 'Pulp Fiction !' and 'Confederate Bullion' pages on this site.