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pro-gym-nas'-ma-ta / From Greek: pro "before" and gymnasmata "exercises"
Also known as: praeexercitamina
Rhetorical Pedagogy: Rhetorical Exercises

These were a set of rudimentary exercises intended to prepare students of rhetoric for the creation and performance of complete practice orations (gymnasmata or declamations). They formed a crucial component of classical and renaissance rhetorical pedagogy. Many progymnasmata exercises correlate directly with the parts of a classical oration.

The 14 Progymnasmata are:

Similar progymnasmata are grouped together. The exercises are in general sequential.

Thesis or Theme
Defend / Attack a Law

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What is rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and a good advocate is a persuasive advocate. Therefore, studying rhetoric makes sense if you are looking to have a career specialising in legal advocacy.

As a lawyer, words are your tools, and the better you are at using those tools the more persuasive you will be.  Rhetoric, despite its reputation, does not involve using flowery language or purple prose - it teaches you to be sensitive to language, which is a good skill for a lawyer to have. Both trials and skeleton arguments are structured as classical rhetorical arguments; a rhetorical argument includes:

  • an introduction,
  • a statement of facts (narration),
  • legal arguments,
  • evidence and a closing speech or conclusion.

The great thing is that the ancient rhetoricians have already done all the heavy lifting on what you need to do at each stage. You can find information on all those aspects on this site.

One of the advantages of studying legal rhetoric is that it is a complete system - it can help you identify your legal arguments, structure them, provide hints and tips of what you should include at every stage of a rhetorical argument, such as a trial or a skeleton argument, and also covers what language to use and how to argue persuasively, how to memorise your speech and how to deliver it. In that sense it brings together the academic, vocational and professional stages of qualifying as an advocate into one package.

If you have not studied rhetoric before and would like to get to grips with the basic principles, before going on to studying how these techniques apply in a legal context, a great place to start is Professor Michael Drouts - A Way with Words: Writing, Rhetoric and the Art of Persuasion.  This 80 page course on rhetoric covers 

If you have an Audible account, it is well worth getting the audio file for this course as well, but working through the above chapters will certainly help you develop your understanding of rhetoric and the different elements that make it up. Each chapter is only about five pages long. As lawyers, chapters of particular relevance are those relating to audience, the enthymeme, being able to identify logical fallacies or flaws in your opponents argument, and understanding the power of logos (logical arguments), ethos (personal and professional credibility) and pathos (emotional arguments) are also very useful. Enjoy!

Copyright in the lecture content lies with Professor Michael Drout, Professor at Wheaton College.

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