On Saturday, September 27, I had the pleasure of presenting materials and leading a discussion on advanced persuasive techniques as part of our school’s Alumni Day activities. Working with alumni gives me the opportunity to engage with experienced legal writers and advocates from various areas of practice and obtain real-world feedback. I appreciate the chance to learn what kinds of persuasive techniques seasoned professionals have had great success with, and which have been less effective. This allows me to add “practice pointers” and context when I teach these concepts in the classroom.

On this day we were able to talk about the importance of credibility in legal argument, and methods to enhance an advocate’s ethos. For example, respect, candor, and zeal contribute to an advocate’s perceived moral character. These attributes can be lost or undermined by trivial errors in presentation or by use of insult or sarcasm. We seemed to be unanimous that the “adverb” method of persuasion, e.g. “clearly, obviously” is ineffective and can adversely affect credibility by emphasizing the obvious nature of something to a judge, or by perhaps understating a complex rule by calling it “obvious.”

We also talked about the value of persistence and reiteration of concepts and arguments. The audience will be fatigued by the persistence; but science indicates that that fatigued audience is more likely to be persuaded as a result. This includes pushing strong arguments over weaker, and layering in theme throughout.

Telling a good story seems crucial to all persuasive presentations; audiences are more likely to be persuaded when they feel some emotional connection to the parties or the underlying claim. We agreed that it is a skill that most litigators develop over time, as it requires more than a simple listing of the relevant facts. This connected well to our discussion on using imagery to present concepts to the audience, both in the story and in the argument. If the audience clearly understands the concepts involved, it is more likely to accept the premises being presented.

I hope that those participating were able to take away a few new techniques they might try more deliberately to include in their next brief or oral argument. I certainly feel better educated now on integrating persuasive techniques into real-world practice, and can now better present that information to my students. So win-win (I hope).