On February 8 and February 15, as part of his appointment to The John Marshall Law School’s Writing Resource Center, Smokeball’s own Josh Taylor spoke to law students about the art and nuances of persuasion in legal writing. The workshop, “Persuasion: The Art of Spinning Your Case” was structured to get first-year students to layer persuasive writing techniques onto their objective legal writing skills. Here are a few highlights of the topics discussed:
Word choice, placement, and other characterization matters when trying to persuade a reader to trust your theme of a case over your opponent’s. The workshop first focused on moving from objective memo writing to persuasive writing within the same legal writing framework. Using general or specific terms, words of time and space, and other detail-oriented writing techniques, students witnessed how the same set of objective facts take on extremely different themes.
Persuasive Writing is Not Brain Surgery
While teaching these techniques, it was important to highlight that persuasive legal writing is not a step-by-step scientific process. Much of the nuance is determined by the facts of a particular case, the audience, and the writer/lawyer’s own personality. Thus, the students learned that there is no set formula for applying the techniques discussed in the workshop.
Persuasion is Powerful for All Pieces of a Memo or Brief
From headings to legal rules to substantive arguments, persuasive writing techniques can apply to all aspects of a memo or brief. The Four Tools for “spinning” each section of your legal writing are: 1) Space, 2) Detail, 3) Position, and 4) Word Choice. Within in part of a memo or brief, a lawyer can employ all four to make their theme of a case more persuasive to readers. Space means devoting more space to good facts, cases, and arguments. Detail means utilizing specificity or generalities to make your argument more potent. Position relates to placing good things up front and at the end, but burying bad things in between. Finally, word choice allows lawyers to really amp up their legal positions. These tools can be applied in both factual and legal portions of a document.
The workshop focused on actual examples of these tools being applied to legal writing, and it culminated with students working through a long objective fact pattern to develop a theme and statement of facts for each side of the dispute.