LAWYERS are trained to argue matters in court. We make no apology for presenting our views in a persuasive manner to the court and the other side in order to win our case. How is argument in law different from argument in everyday life?
Most psychologists would agree that arguing is a natural and healthy part of all social relationships: romantic, personal and business. In fact, they would probably be concerned if individuals did not argue at all; it may suggest that emotions and/or opinions were being suppressed which would ultimately frustrate the relationship. When we argue with someone you learn a lot about who they are, what they think and how they respond to disagreement.
Here is a common scenario: let’s say a group of friends have decided to go and see a particular movie on a Saturday night. On arrival at the cinema, however, they discover that the movie that they intended to see, is not playing and they have to make a decision collectively on an alternative movie choice. Everyone would want to make suggestions based on their own personal preferences. The winner(s) of the argument would be the individual(s) who presented the best and most persuasive argument to the group.
If there is a lawyer in the group, he or she may argue that if the cinema advertised that a particular movie would be showing at a particular time, and decide not to show the movie due to poor ticket sales, that the group can challenge the cinema to reconsider their actions as the group had relied on the advertisement and the availability of the seats to coordinate their outing for that particular day to watch that particular movie. Another lawyer in the group may want to confirm the reason why the movie will not be played. Is the movie reel faulty? Was the advertisement put in the newspaper or wherever it was displayed in error and was not the fault of the cinema owner?
Lawyers are trained to separate salient facts and emotional responses. They have learnt to present their arguments in a persuasive way by presenting their views (to support their client’s case); respecting the other party’s position; actively listening to the arguments of the opposing counsel; and making attempts to reach a realistic conclusion that will benefit their clients (if possible). They have learnt that it weakens their position to be emotionally invested in the argument, so they remain as emotionally detached as possible and simply present the relevant facts to strengthen their case.
Lawyers do not argue for the sake of arguing. They are clearly putting across their points of view on the matter in clear, concise (or detailed, if necessary) and structured arguments. They know why they are arguing; what the purpose is of the argument and what they wish to achieve by it. They will clearly express the topic or theme and their claim or central point in their argument. They are also aware of any weaknesses in their argument and anticipate that opposing counsel will also know them and stand ready to defend their position.
Lawyers know that they must have reasons for their claim, in other words their arguments must be supported by facts and legal theories or legal authorities and cannot simply exist in a vacuum. Their arguments will be consistent with a common theme throughout and will not deviate from that theme. They will know the legal principle(s) behind their position and listen carefully to the arguments of opposing counsel before responding.
Lawyers are also aware that their position may be flawed and if the opposing counsel’s argument is better than the position that they presented; they have the grace and humility to eventually submit to this new position. They are also mindful that they must avoid circular arguments; manipulation by intimidation, name calling and changing the subject. These tactics would be unethical and unprofessional. Their arguments will be largely on point, definitive and accurate. They will not mislead the court in any way by embellishing the facts, introducing false evidence or showing disrespect to their colleagues, the court or the other party.
Argument, in any context, means disagreeing with the other person(s) point of view and clearly expressing your own position. It can be healthy within most relationships as long as the arguments are timely, avoid personal attacks, are not historical or hysterical and allow all parties to the argument to clearly express their positions. It is important to listen as well as you argue so you can uncover any weaknesses in your opponent’s argument and counter it.
Ms. Trudy O. Glasgow is a practising attorney at the law firm Trudy O. Glasgow & Associates and a court-appointed mediator in Saint Lucia (and has also taught law at University level in the UK)*
This column is for general use only, for advice specifically for your case, please see your lawyer.
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Next week: The Power of words