Persuasive literary phrases to use in your next legal brief

Legal briefs are written for one reason and one reason only: to persuade a court to agree with your client’s position. To accomplish this goal, legal professionals might use strong verbs or add in compelling metaphors.

Especially creative attorneys could consider pumping up their arguments by including a few of the following snippets from famous speeches in beloved books to drive their point home.

Justice

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockgingbird

In Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, Attorney Atticus Finch stands for truth, fairness, and the American legal system when he makes this statement in his closing remarks:

I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.

Now who could argue with that?

Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things

Jodi Picoult's Small Great Things

A legal dispute deals with facts, and each party commonly has a different version of the facts and the way the law should be applied to them. Consider how bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult discusses the concept of facts in her book, Small Great Things:

“There is no such thing as a fact. There is only how you saw the fact, in a given moment. How you reported the fact. How your brain processed that fact. There is no extrication of the storyteller from the story.”

Lawyers base their arguments on legal facts, and the goal is to win the case. Questions of fact are generally left for the jury to determine after each side has presented its case. But facts are always up for interpretation, which is the purpose of writing a legal brief, right?

John Grisham’s A Time to Kill

John Grisham's A Time to Kill

Criminal trials often have a racial component, – think of the O.J. Simpson trial and the case of Timothy Foster, a black man sentenced to death by an all-white jury for murdering an elderly white woman. You can help a court gain insight into what it means to be a legal party in a racist society by plugging this Jake Brigance quote into your next legal brief:

“And until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be even-handed. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices.”

Set in Mississippi, A Time to Kill is a poignant story of a father who fights for justice after his 10-year-old daughter is brutally assaulted, and the attorney who takes up the fight with him.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare statue

As you write your next legal brief, consider this: William Shakespeare invented more than 1,700 common English words by changing nouns to verbs, verbs to adjectives, linking words together that were never connected before, adding prefixes and suffixes to words, and creating completely new words.

Here are some of the words coined by Shakespeare that are commonly used in the legal industry today, along with the play that they first appeared in:

  • AccusedRichard II
  • Amend – Macbeth
  • Answer – Hamlet
  • Baseless – The Tempest
  • Burden – The Tempest
  • Circumstantial – As You Like It
  • Compromise – The Merchant of Venice
  • Diligence – Cymbeline
  • Discovery – As You Like It
  • Discretion – As You Like It
  • Exposure – Troilus and Cressida
  • ImpartialKing Henry IV, Part II
  • Injunction – King Lear
  • Negotiate – Much Ado About Nothing
  • Premeditated – King Henry VI, Part I

Shakespeare also invented a number of catchy phrases, many of which are still in use today. “It’s Greek to me,” from Julius Caesar could describe the way many legal professionals talk when they use too much jargon. So take a phrase or two from popular authors of the day and liven up your briefs with truths from their pages.

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Do you know of any words and phrases that will strengthen the persuasiveness of a legal brief? Tell us all about them in the comments!

Guide to better legal writing

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