Got a good story to tell about your life and the law?
The Brigham Young University J. Rueben Clark Law School wants to hear from you. The school is launching the first-ever national storytelling competition for law students, with 10 finalists getting an all-expense-paid trip to Utah in March where they will take the stage to share their stories.
Law schools have dabbled with incorporating storytelling into their curricula or as an extracurricular activity, according to BYU law dean Gordon Smith. But he said his school’s new storytelling initiative, dubbed BYU LawStories on the Mainstage, is the most formal attempt yet to get law students to embrace storytelling as a way not only to be better lawyers, but to explore their personal relationship with the law.
“We want to get the students to connect emotionally to the law,” Smith said. “We think if they do, it will inspire them to work harder to be good lawyers.”
Most people immediately think of trial lawyers when they consider the value of storytelling in the law, but the skill translates well beyond the courtroom, Smith said. He recalled his former days as a transactional lawyer, where stories also played a part in his day-to-day work.
“If we were talking about a merger or public offering, we were telling stories about ‘Oh, the last merger I did…’ or ‘I had a deal once that did this…,’” Smith said. “We were telling stories that framed the way we thought about our work as transactional lawyers.”
Rebecca Clarke, who oversees the school’s publications, is shaping how BYU incorporates storytelling into the campus. Administrators were surprise to discover that the law school already had an informal student group dedicated to storytelling, so it decided to collaborate by bringing in guests to talk about storytelling techniques. BYU held its first internal storytelling competition for law students last year, which proved a success. Participants talked about their clerkships or ways in which the law had impacted their lives.
“What I learned from that experience was that it was tremendously affirming to those students who participated in the competition—to show that part of their personality to their classmates and professors,” Smith said. “They said they learned a tremendous amount about themselves, through telling their stories.”
Utah is a natural location to incubate law student storytelling talent, given that storytelling is important within the Mormon faith, Smith pointed out. The law school’s region is home to one of the nation’s largest annual storytelling festivals, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. And a nationally syndicated radio show about storytelling, The Apple Seed, records on the BYU campus.
BYU decided to take its law student storytelling competition national this year in hopes of finding the best stories. Applicants have until Feb. 20 to submit a nonfiction narrative of 1,000 to 1,500 words that ties together their life and the law. The school will bring 10 finalists to campus March 13 to 16, where they will have a half-day seminar on storytelling from the host of The Apple Seed. The main competition will be open to the public. Afterward, the finalists will travel to Moab to visit some of Utah’s famous national parks.
“We’re looking for something that has a true story arc or narrative to it—something where you see a perceptual shift, growth or change,” Clarke said. “We’re looking for great hooks and great endings, things that are not too didactic but leave you with a sense of theme or purpose. We want to hear a sense of voice in the stories. We want to hear that student come through.”