Whether the court is a small claims court or a massive, televised trial, only one thing really matters — the arguments. In terms of court proceedings, the argument refers to how the lawyers for both the plaintiff and the defendant argue the entire case to the judge. The arguments are designed to persuade both judge and jury that their side of the argument is correct, and that their side is the one that needs to be listened to and believed.
Persuasive speaking and winning over the opinions of people can be extremely difficult, and there are a lot of different tools that lawyers use to structure a winning argument. While television shows often focus on the witnesses and the various effects they have on a trial, the arguments that are made during the trial are often the meat of the trial.
The entire foundation of any law case is built upon the arguments. In most situations, it doesn’t matter what the facts about the case say if the lawyer presenting those facts can’t persuade the judge and jury why the facts matter and why their side should be believed. The arguments of law are very important and can be analyzed by people who are looking to understand more about persuasion and how these arguments are structured.
Lawyers’ arguments are very interesting to analyze, and it can be revealing to see how they are structured and why they work the way they do… or why they fail to persuade the judge. Even with the dozens of factors that come with every single case, the arguments often remain the same, or at least have the same components. Here’s all you need to know about everything that goes into developing a legal argument, and if you aren’t a lawyer, then hopefully you won’t need to use this!
The start of a legal argument
One of the first things that happens during a legal argument is the identification of the relevant legal issues. For example, the argument could be as simple as: “My client did not cause the car accident.” Then, the other side will be arguing that the client in question did cause the car accident. That would be the entire case in a nutshell. However, legal cases are both very simple and extremely complex.
The basic structure of the legal argument is focused on what happened, the legal consequences of that and the administration of justice. The rule of the case tends to go like this: If conditions are met, then the consequences of that action follow. Are those conditions met or not, and what does that mean for those legal consequences?
While this might seem very simple, there are plenty of different issues with the law and the various legal rules, as well as all the other facts of the case, which can make arguing a case very complicated very quickly.
Whenever a legal argument starts, the text of the law is read. For example, if a client is accused of assault and hires a lawyer to defend themselves, the definition of assault would be looked at first and foremost. The legal definition is: “An intentional act that gives another person reasonable fear that they’ll be physically harmed or offensively touched. No physical contact or injury has to actually occur, but the accused person must have intentionally acted in a way to cause that fear.”
There are other degrees of assault as well. For example, first degree assault is defined as: “Intent to cause great bodily harm with a deadly weapon or force or exposure to a dangerous disease or substance.” While second degree is defined as: “Intent to inflict substantial bodily harm using weapons or force or exposure to dangerous disease or substance.”
As you can see, the main difference between first and second degrees are the words ‘great bodily harm’ and ‘substantial bodily harm’. So, what exactly do those mean? This is open for debate by the lawyers and has been for plenty of cases, and there are a lot of ways that these can be interpreted. For the client in the example, the lawyer hired to defend them will define their case based on the definition of assault, which will shape the legal argument going forward.
Deductive vs inductive reasoning
Deductive and inductive reasoning are two terms that are very important in the world of law. There isn’t anything that is 100% true, but instead every truth is a conclusion based on the available evidence, and the more evidence we have, the stronger the truth is.
Inductive reasoning involves drawing conclusions from facts using logic, and we do this all the time. For lawyers, this type of reasoning is used to help connect the various facts of the case together and help form relationships between the rest of the facts of the case. While people outside of the court of law might decide that the only two things that are important in the world of law are the words innocent and guilty, lawyers know that a conclusion in a case is going to be strong or weak, rather than right or wrong.
Deductive reasoning is much more straightforward. These are facts where a conclusion is true and the facts support it. Deductive reasoning needs to point towards some type of truth so that people can draw a conclusion, and these connect a premise and a truth together. For example, the statement: “All dogs have ears; golden retrievers are dogs, therefore they have ears” or “Christmas is always December 25th; today is December 25th, therefore it’s Christmas” are connected by deductive reasoning as the facts support the conclusion.
Lawyers use the three parts of a deductive statement: the major premise, the minor premise and the conclusion, to help them present their case. The major premise is the general rule that everyone must follow, the minor premise is more specific and the conclusion shows that the minor and major premises are connected.
For example, if someone hired a lawyer to represent them because they drove 35 miles per hour in a school zone that is by law 25 miles per hour, then the major premise is that the law says 25 miles per hour is the speed limit, the minor is that the client drove 35 miles per hour, therefore, the client broke the law.
Deductive reasoning is all about understanding the law. For lawyers who need to handle deductive reasoning, they can either challenge the major premise or the minor one. They might dig deeper and find that the client drove 35 miles per hour outside of school hours, where the speed limit of 25 doesn’t apply. Alternatively, they may not have been driving inside a school zone and a mistake was made.
Lawyers can challenge all parts of the deductive statement, but they certainly need facts to back up any challenges they make. Both deductive and inductive reasoning are two sides of the same coin and they come into play in every single case.
The structure of the arguments
One of the biggest issues that come with interpreting the law is taking the facts of the case and deciding what they mean in the context of the law. Trying to understand what the intentions were of the people who wrote the law and interpreting that side of things is also what lawyers do. Evaluating what the text means, when it was written and the intent of the text during the time period, and how the text and its interpretations have changed over time can be very interesting.
Moving around the strict wording of the text can be worrying for many lawyers, because there are so many different ways to interpret a law, especially given all the other facts of the case. However, looking beyond the text is not only something that people do all the time, but something that must be done in order to understand the law. For the most part, law arguments are focused on proving that their interpretation of the law is correct, and that the other interpretation is wrong.
Connecting the law to the facts of the case is one of the main pillars of a legal argument. You need to understand the law, the facts of the case, and then you need to prove that one supports the other when it comes to defending your client.
Most arguments are focused on reading
Being a lawyer involves more reading than many people might think especially given what we see on television. Not only do lawyers need to prove their own case, but in many cases they need to connect the current law case to previous ones in order to support their argument. For many lawyers, this means getting nose deep into the books in order to try and figure out if any previous court cases connect to the one they are working on. If they can prove that other courts of law made certain decisions on cases that are similar to the current one, they will have more evidence to support their claims.
Additionally, each one of these court cases is strong evidence for the current case to go a certain way. Understanding the subject matter of the case, the legal issues related to the case, and then having a way to apply the previous law to the facts of the current case, can really form a strong backbone for a law case.
Lawyers focus on evidence-based arguments and use that evidence to get the results they need for their clients. Additionally, they need to learn to properly cite their sources for both written and oral based cases and ensure that the citations are correct in order to further support their arguments.
Defending your arguments
Presenting a case in a courtroom isn’t just speaking your own arguments and trying to persuade the jury that your version of events is correct. It also involves dealing with the various arguments and counter arguments that the opposing lawyer is going to throw your way. They are going to be trying to figure out how to overcome your arguments as they try to persuade the judge and jury that their side of the argument is correct and needs to be followed.
This means that in addition to presenting your arguments, you will also be attempting to defend your case as the other lawyer will be trying to poke holes into it. This can be the hardest part of any case because the overall management can be incredibly complex. As a lawyer, you will need to be on the ball and ready to respond to whatever is thrown at you, and the better that you are able to poke holes into your opponent’s story the more effectively you will be in persuading the jury that your version of events is the only version of events.
It can be difficult, but that’s something that you need to learn inside of the courtroom dealing with other lawyers and their arguments. The more you practice, the better you will be at presenting your arguments.
The closing arguments
While the opening statement is designed to outline facts and set the scene for the jurors and the judge, the closing argument ties everything together. At this point, the jury has heard all the witnesses, the arguments and the facts for both sides of the case. The closing argument focuses on summarizing everything for the jurors and reminds them not just of key evidence, but also why it matters and why they should make the choice you’ve outlined.
While opening arguments are more factual in nature, closing arguments focus on arguments and analogies. Anything a lawyer can do to make their argument stronger while planting doubts into the minds of the jury about their opponent’s case is going to be done in the closing argument. The lawyers have more leeway to argue about the case, and also to argue the merits of what has occurred during the trial.
Learning about making legal arguments
Many people who want to learn more about becoming a lawyer are interested because many people have told them that they are very persuasive or are very good at making arguments. Despite this, simply being able to argue your points isn’t enough. The law isn’t about what you believe to be correct, but what the facts support. You aren’t trying to persuade the judge or the jury that your argument is right, you are trying to persuade them that your case is supported by facts and logic.
You need to argue in a clear and concise way that focuses on presenting the facts and supporting all your arguments with logic and facts, rather than the more emotional arguments that can occur outside of a court of law. You can use your natural skills of persuasion and your ability to argue whenever you are working on a case in the court of law, but any arguments must be grounded in the facts.
This requires extensive education and support from a good law school. You need to learn how to make inductive and deductive arguments, how to focus on finding good research sources and incorporating them into your arguments, and you need to learn how to deal with the arguments that the other lawyer is going to be presenting to the judge and jury.
An ABA accredited online law school, such as Cleveland State University, is an excellent choice to pursue this type of education. The American Bar Association (ABA) is one of the most important organizations in the law profession, and schools that are accredited ensure their students are prepared to excel in the field of law. By earning an Online Juris Doctor degree at Cleveland State University, students gain expertize through 100% online coursework combined with practical experience gained through clinic programs, externships, mentorship and in-person weekend residencies.
Practice makes perfect
While you might think that legal arguments are extremely complicated and can be very frustrating because they depend on so many factors and can change from case to case, once you become comfortable with the structure of legal arguments, you will find that you can focus on the actual case and the person who you are trying to defend or fight for.
This will enable you to argue to the best of your ability and hopefully get your client justice and the results that you both need, and you’ll become a much better lawyer too!