Using Words to Win Legally
The Art of Advocacy Through Carefully Chosen Words
We are all storytellers. Life is a constant exercise in telling others the story of whatever it is we wish to convey. As a lawyer, I have been trained in the art of advocacy through carefully chosen words, trained in the creation of word pictures to convince others of the correctness of positions I take on behalf of my clients. I tell the story of the case before me.
Most people think lawyers speak a different language, one filled with “heretofore,” “notwithstanding,” “parties of the first part” and “parties of the second part” – in short, gobbledygook. Often, this is an unfortunate reality and one that in almost every instance does a disservice to the lawyer’s client and the client’s objectives. If the end goal is to convince someone that they should agree with you, which is generally the goal in negotiations and litigation, the word picture created should be clear, concise, and accessible.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed Executive Order 12044, directing the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to ensure that regulations were “written in plain English and understandable to those who must comply with it.” This became known as “Jimmy Carter Plain English” and, while rescinded by President Ronald Reagan, speaks to an underlying intent. People are more likely to do what a regulation says when they understand its meaning. This is true in advocacy as well. A judge or jury is more likely to come down on the side of an argument that makes sense, one they understand.
The power of words cannot be overstated. The same set of facts when presented artfully, thoughtfully and in an accessible manner may convince its audience, whereas the same facts presented clumsily, using lazy “legalese,” may leave its audience confused, irritated and unconvinced. Choosing the advocate who will convey the facts is almost as important as the facts themselves. A lawyer who understands his or her audience, and how to most effectively speak to them, is paramount.
Choosing a Lawyer
All lawyers are not the same, and a good fit is as important in a lawyer-client relationship as in any other relationship. When you need a lawyer, whether for business negotiations, litigation, divorce, estate planning or any of the thousands of other needs that arise in life in which lawyers are involved, don’t be nervous to ask questions about style, tact or any of the “soft” skills that may be just as important as the knowledge and technical expertise that will be necessary for a successful representation. After all, if you have a hard time following what your lawyer is saying, so will others.
Peter Glazer is a business attorney in Washington DC with the Glazer Law Firm, P.C. His practice represents small and mid-sized businesses. He is a graduate of Boston College and Tulane Law School, and is an avid skier.
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