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LIV President's Blog 2012

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How to structure a winning argument

How to structure a winning argument

The ability to win an argument – and argue generally – is often seen as one of those qualities that most lawyers possess (much to the annoyance of our partners and friends). Many of us were taught from a very young age that being able to argue your point is an important skill. Remember all of those persuasive essays in high school?

The word argument can have negative connotations but it also means “a reason or set of reasons given in support of an idea, action or theory”1 and it is this definition that we as law students, graduates and lawyers focus on. So how do you structure a winning argument?

  •  1. Be clear about your argument

The very first question you should be asking yourself is: what exactly is your argument? While it may be really clear to you, is it clear to those you are attempting to persuade? Unfortunately “just because...” doesn’t cut the mustard in the legal world (although you can always try it on your younger siblings). Often in law we are dealing with complex legal issues, and it can sometimes be difficult for your argument to stand out. Being crystal clear about your position will help your argument shine through.

  • 2. Be well-informed

This means knowing as much as you possibly can about your argument and the evidence that you are going to use to support your proposition. Your best weapon is good research, but of course you will have to draw a line somewhere (you can probably leave out judgments from the 1700s). Developing well-honed research skills will play a key role in helping you advocate for your client or get the mark that you want.

  • 3. Play devil’s advocate

Sometimes a “win” in an argument can come from your ability to dismantle and disprove the opposition’s arguments, and their ability to do the same to yours. Therefore it really helps if you can pre-empt the weak points in your argument and devise ways of strengthening your point and refuting objections. You may be able to do this by re-wording or practising how to deliver your point more convincingly. Always try to anticipate what the other side may be arguing ­– we all know that the same set of facts can be open to multiple interpretations.

  • 4. Appreciate the importance of language

Despite what many think, filling your argument with legalese will not make your point more persuasive. Never underestimate the power of an argument expressed clearly and simply. There is a groundswell towards the use of plain English, which allows us to communicate effectively and with clarity. Every time you draft an essay or address, you need to conscientiously weed out unnecessary legal jargon. A great way of testing the readability of your document is to use the Flesch–Kincaid test. It’s available on Microsoft Word and will enable you to see the average number of words per sentence and sentences per paragraph. It will also measure overall readability, including identifying passive sentences, which are over-used in a lot of legal writing but are a big no-no in plain English writing. This tool isn’t perfect and you’ll need to use your own judgment, but it’s a good starting point.

  • 5. Know when you are beaten

This pains me to say, but – besides the other two givens in life, taxes and death – there will always be a winner and a loser in our adversarial legal system. If you have prepared well and have all the facts to back you up, you have a good chance of winning your argument. For those times when your argument doesn’t win the day, always be graceful in defeat.  

If you want to test out your skills, be sure to put together a team for the LIV and Hanover Mooting Competition.

About the author: Elizabeth Maginn is the Acting Manager of the Young Lawyers Section and an avid baker.

 
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Pattersonlaw
You have five salient and well structured points here, the SIXTH is, in some (most) cases, even through gritted teeth, a non-runner, that would be "always be graceful in defeat!"
30/06/2015 6:08:13 PM

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