Nov. 27, 2023 — University of Houston Law Center alumnus Jim Perdue Sr. (J.D. ’63) draws from his more than 50 years of trying cases and 12 years of teaching at UHLC for his newly released book, “Courtroom Storytelling.”
Perdue has not only accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience but has also garnered accolades for his outstanding contributions to the legal field.
Most recently, Perdue was honored by the Houston Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates with the esteemed Sentinel of the Seventh Amendment. This recognition was given for his “steadfast support and preservation of the Seventh Amendment” and his “outstanding and exemplary service to our profession.” Additionally, Perdue was honored with the 2020 Texas Trial Lawyers Association Lifetime Achievement Award for dedication and exemplary performance.
The award-winning Perdue shares his inspiration for writing and imparts lessons on storytelling in the legal arena.
What led you to pursue writing about trial advocacy?
This is my ninth published book, four of which were legal treatises. I wrote two books on trial advocacy and the different tactics that a lawyer could use in the courtroom. Then, I did a book of stories, noting stories from legal history about prominent lawyers and judges. That brings up to date things I learned from teaching trial advocacy and trying cases.
What lessons does your book offer that prove essential elements for persuading a jury?
When I started practicing, lawyers followed a “stack of facts” approach, presenting fact after fact to the jury. The basic premise of my book is that the law is not a trial. It is not a debate. It is a contest of stories, which is a unique approach. It was an epiphany for me, and it's an epiphany for a lot of lawyers, that maybe there's a better way. You have to have a story that is logical and is not counterintuitive. It has to meet with not only logic but intuition or, in Texas, gut.
What lessons in your book would prove useful, or even necessary, for the new trial lawyers?
A storyteller is not something you can just decide to be automatically. You must start with your concept of storytelling in your opening statement, and then you must use it with your witnesses. You must use it when you're putting on evidence, when you're cross-examining and in your closing argument. You've got to be committed to telling the best story.
Are there any favorite memories from your time as a student or adjunct professor at UHLC noted in the book?
We have made incredible progress as a law school. It began after World War II, and most students were veterans. Classes were first held in Quonset huts over by the Cougar Den, and just before I went into law school, students moved into the basement of the M.D. Anderson Library. Now UHLC is in a $93 million, 180,000-square-foot building with one of the best faculties in the country. We ranked No. 1 in our trial advocacy program among all public law schools in Texas.
What advice would you give to law students who are unsure of their next steps?
Learning principles of good advocacy, whether you are in the courtroom or a boardroom, is helpful. Outline all of your courses. When I was in law school, I outlined every course, which included what was said by the professor, what was said in the books and other pertinent things. Dedicate yourself to learning all you can. Law school is not an undergraduate school, but if you dedicate yourself, you will succeed.
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