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Painting pictures with words - a key skill

A key skill for any advocate is to be able to paint pictures with words, and historically advocates were encouraged to look into the detail of their clients lives and actions as that would build up a holistic picture of the client and the events relating to the case, which you could then use to to paint  a vivid description of your clients story. Cicero argued that all material for either the prosecution or the defence is drawn from the attributes of persons and actions, and advocates were encouraged to look into a person's nature (sex, race, place of birth, family, age and advantages and disadvantages of mind and body, their occupation, rearing and home life, wealth,status, emotional state at the time of crucial events, objectives, achievements, and previous comments on that issue.

However, researching those points was not enough as advocates were expected to be able to use the power of language and vivid description well. This does not necessarily mean using long and complicated words. Marshall Hall, commonly cited as the best criminal advocate of all time, and whose nickname was "The Great Defender" had a simple linguistic style. He always used simple words that could be used by any jury member, no matter what their level of education. But the pictures that he painted with those words was extra-ordinary. For example, here is Marshall Hall's "Scales of Justice Act" as it was known; his closing speech in the Lawrence case. When giving this speech, Marshall Hall used his body and his hands to demonstrate what he was saying. He addressed the jury, saying:

“It may appear that the scales of Justice are first weighed on one side, in favour of the prisoner, and then on the other, against the prisoner. As counsel on either side puts the evidence in these two scales, I can call to my fancy a great statue of Justice holding those two scales with equally honest hands. As the jury watch the scales, they think for a moment that one scale and then that the other, has fallen, and then again are so level that they cannot make up their minds which was lower or higher. Then in the one scale, in the prisoner's scale, unseen by human eye, is placed that over-balancing weight, the weight of the presumption of innocence. When the balance is so struck that you cannot tell which pan is nearest the ground, then it is your duty to remember the invisible weight of that invisible substance - the right of every man to demand the acceptance of his innocence until proven guilty. I will leave it in your hands.”


 Curran is also a master of the power of vivid description, although he has a more outwardly sophisticated style than Marshall Hall, for example. Richard du Cann, in his book "The Art of the Advocate" had this to say about the following part of Curran's speech in R v Hamilton Rowan that we are going to be looking at. 

"This is eloquence of a very high order and of another age. There is not an advocate in practice at the Bar today that could formulate and then deliver a sentence of this kind"

This quote emphasies the importance of eloquence in an advocate although I am not sure that Curran would agree with Richard du Cann that nobody at the Bar today would be capable of formulating and delivering such a speech. I suspect that Curran would argue that if an advocate had studied rhetoric in the same level of detail as Curran then they should be perfectly capable of formulating and delivering such a statement.  Curran is the perfect example of what you can achieve through the study of legal rhetoric. He was from a humble background; he initially had a bad stutter and the first time he got to his feet he died completely and couldn't say a word, and yet he went on to become one of the greatest legal orators of all time. Nowhere is his skill at oratory better demonstrated than in pdfthis part of his opening speech in R v Hamilton Rowan, which you can read here. 1.13 MB where he absolutely demolishes part of the charge being made against Hamilton Rowan, that he had argued for Catholic Emancipation. 

Exercise 1

Try writing out a statements of facts based on the same argument being made pdfhere1.13 MB and work on not just conveying the legal and practical points that Curran makes here but aim to create a vivid speech that will move your audience. You may find it helpful to actually analyse the linguistic tricks and rhetorical devices he uses in this speech so you can work out some of the techniques he has used here, and then try and re-use some of those techniques in your own speech.

Exercise 2

Judges get bored with hearing the burden of proof speech, so practise writing out different and vivid ways that you could convey the same information without being boring about it, using Marshall Halls speech to give you ideas. Using metaphor is often a useful and vivid technique you can use, and pdfmetaphors are found everywhere in law 222.63 KBfor that reason. If you want to know the common factor between Curran and Marshall Hall, they were both very good at using metaphors in their speeches. Curran is credited as saying that "When I can't talk sense, I talk metaphor,"and it is certainly a technique that both men used to very good effect.

 Further reading

For a modern take on these concepts you may find it useful to read the following articles by Steven Lubet:

The Trial as a persuasive story

pdfPersuasion at trial3.3 MB

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