UofT Law faculty authors: 

Simon Stern, "Narrative in the Legal Text: Judicial Opinions and Their Narratives," in Michael Hanne and Robert Weisberg, eds., Narrative and Metaphor in the Law (Cambridge UP, 2018), 121-39


The law’s most familiar and characteristic mode of written expression, the judgment, lacks two of the key ingredients that contribute to the lure of literary narrative — namely, the drive, fueled by uncertainty and anticipation, that propels readers on towards the conclusion, and the pleasure of observing and reflecting on others’ mental states, which accounts for a considerable part of fiction’s cognitive appeal. The absence of these features should alert us to the questionable premises underlying any treatment of the judgment as simply one more form of narrative, whose fundamental similarity to novels and films can be taken for granted. Using a few fundamental concepts in the study of narrative, involving the definition of plot and the power of the “reality effect” (whose analogue, I propose, is the “legality effect”), this chapter asks what we can learn about legal decisions by considering them as having distinctive narrative features, rather than summarily lumping them together with literary narratives. The results, I suggest, help to make sense of the doctrinal analysis as well as the decision’s formal structure.


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