Trial lawyers talk too much.
We want to be persuasive, impressive and beloved in the courtroom. The judge should think us brilliant. The jurors should be on the edge of their seats, waiting on our every word.
These are good goals, but to reach them, we have to break bad habits.
In law school, we were praised for using long, dense phrases. We were taught to state our position, and then state it again, and again. Brevity was not taught or encouraged.
And now we think the more we talk, the more likely a jury is to believe what we say.
But your word count at trial doesn’t matter. Using big words and long explanations alienates jurors and wastes their time.
The truth is that the most powerful and persuasive arguments are often short, simple, and concise.
It takes great discipline for trial lawyers to be short and concise—myself included. That’s why after more than 35 years in courtrooms, my trial prep still includes reading the Gettysburg Address.
Why trial lawyers should read the Gettysburg Address
Most folks do not know that the principal speaker at Gettysburg on November 19th, 1863 was not Abraham Lincoln. It was Edward Everett, a famous politician and the President of Harvard, who was considered a “spellbinding” orator. Lincoln and Everett traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that day to dedicate a national cemetery because of the tremendous death toll of the Civil War.
That day, Everett spoke to the crowd for two hours. No one remembers a word.
Lincoln’s speech was 10 sentences and 272 words. In 2 minutes, he struck a chord that resonated with his audience and reverberated through centuries.
Later, Everett said about Lincoln’s speech:
“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”