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The use of persuasive language in court

How is persuasive language used in a court of law?

In a court of law, the use of persuasive language can be a powerful tool for lawyers. It can sway the opinion of the judge or jury. This technique involves the use of specific words and phrases. These are designed to evoke an emotional response from the listener. And, of course, to convince them of the lawyer’s argument.

One of the most common techniques is rhetoric. This involves the use of persuasive language, rather than informative. Lawyers can use rhetorical techniques such as: 

  • Repetition
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor 

These can be combined to create a powerful argument.

They can repeat a word or phrase to reinforce a specific point. Lawyers can use repetition to emphasize key points in their argument. This can make them more memorable to the listener. For example, a lawyer may repeatedly use the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This can emphasise the high burden of proof required in a criminal case.

Imagery is another technique used in persuasive language. This involves the use of descriptive language to create a mental picture. Lawyers can use it to help the listener visualise details. It creates a more emotional connection to their argument. For example, a lawyer may use vivid descriptions of a crime scene. This paints a picture of the events that took place.

Metaphors are also commonly used to create a comparison between two things that are not alike. Lawyers can use metaphors to explain complex legal concepts in a way that is more easily understood by the listener. For example, a lawyer may use the metaphor of a “smoking gun”. This explains the importance of a key piece of evidence in a criminal case.

Emotive language is also powerful. This evokes an emotional response from the listener. Lawyers can use emotional appeals such as fear, sympathy, and anger. It has power to sway the opinion of the judge or jury.

Fear is a powerful emotion. For example, a lawyer may use the fear of a dangerous criminal. This can convince the jury to convict the defendant.

Sympathy is another powerful emotion. This can be used by lawyers to create a connection between the listener and their client. By presenting their client as a sympathetic figure, lawyers can appeal to the listener’s sense of compassion. 

Anger is also a commonly used emotion in persuasive language. Particularly in cases where the defendant is accused of a heinous crime. By appealing to outrage and anger, lawyers can convince the jury to convict.

Lawyers can also use the power of storytelling to persuade. Evidence, if damning enough, is difficult to refute. But a good narrative makes it even more so.

What is an example of rhetoric in law? 

A good, if rightly controversial, example of rhetoric in law is one of the most famous quotes of the 1990s. This is, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” / “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit”. You may recognise it from lawyer Johnny Cochran’s closing argument in defence of O.J. Simpson. 

Although the trial was influenced by numerous factors, its notoriety and impact remains. It is not a coincidence that statements that rhyme are more convincing than those that do not. This is due to the fact that rhyming sentences have a greater persuasive power compared to those without rhyme.

In a paper titled “Birds of a Feather Flock Conjointly (?),” Lafayette College researchers discovered that rhyming aphorisms are perceived as more believable. Though not all aphorisms use rhyming patterns, the adages that do are typically more believable. Some enduring examples include sayings such as, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” and “Haste makes waste.” 

So rhyme makes something more memorable. But they also make it easier for our brains to process the information. No matter how educated we are, our brains don’t like to work too hard unnecessarily. It naturally favours things that are easier to process. In the above experiment, perceived truthfulness was enhanced by the fluency of the phrases. 

What can we learn from this? 

You may be writing to persuade in many areas of your work. Whether you’re copywriting and therefore writing to sell, or you’re simply putting together a case for asking for that raise. Don’t underestimate the power of rhetoric. 

We can learn a lot from lawyers. Lawyers have facts at their disposal. But they have a lot of other things in their arsenal to persuade a jury. 

Don’t overdo it – having all of your writing in verse will distract your reader. Instead, choose one point you want to emphasise. Then think about how you can phrase it catchily and, of course, concisely.