I’m a huge Hamilton fan. To me the musical represents everything that makes this country great. But why do I feel that way? Contrary to the show’s portrayal of Hamilton as a “scrappy and hungry” man of the people, in reality he was an elitist who disdained the lower classes, feared democratic politics, and loathed the egalitarian tendencies of the revolutionary era in which he lived (see here).
And yet, I still love the show. Why? Because Lin-Manuel Miranda brilliantly “reframed” the Hamilton story in a way that’s perfect for the particular moment in history we’re experiencing today.
There’s a lesson to be had here for trusts and estates lawyers. How a story’s “framed” is critical in any kind of estate litigation. The pleadings and evidence in a typical Will contest read like a script from Days of Our Lives. The star of the show is usually the testator, often painted in surrealistic black and white terms by the contestant as a senile, diseased, mentally unbalanced victim, the equivalent of Shakespeare’s King Lear. On the other hand the proponent draws the testator as a wily, crafty senior citizen motivated by moral indignation to refuse to enable the bad conduct of relatives.
Both story lines can be compelling, which means the side that best frames its side of the case starting from the very first day in court usually has the advantage. As any veteran litigator will tell you, once a particular narrative takes hold in a judge’s mind dislodging it is practically impossible.
In this month’s ABA Journal there’s a great article that uses Hamilton as an example of how lawyers can “frame” the facts of their cases to present winning story lines. The article’s entitled What ‘Hamilton’ teaches lawyers about framing a story and it’s written by Philip N. Meyer, a professor at the Vermont Law School and the author of Storytelling for Lawyers. The article’s a must read for trusts and estates lawyers. Here’s an excerpt:
While reading the closing arguments collected in the excellent Greatest Closing Arguments books by Michael S. Lief and H. Mitchell Caldwell, I realized that trial lawyers, especially in these high-profile closing arguments in historical and spectacular trials, are akin to Miranda in Hamilton. These often theatrical closing arguments “adapt” other stories, sampling from personal anecdotes, and cultural, historical and biblical narratives. Stories-within-stories are nested like Russian dolls, one encased within the form of the next, often framed by a thematic meta-story.