Words Matter

If you didn’t already know that words matter, let this funny video be a reminder of how words can make or break a case (or a lawyer).

 

Words cause wars.  Words stop wars.  Words are what separate humans from the animal kingdom.  Written or spoken, helpful or harmful, symbols with attached meaning are what allow the world to work and for civilization to exist.

Despite the importance of words, it can be a bit frustrating when someone corrects your grammar and even more annoying when someone corrects a spoken sentence.  In a world filled with emoji’s and phrases like “r u 🙂 ?” passing for communication, it is easy to allow diction to be dictated by efficiency and question why there is such a big emphasis on words.

But as any good lawyer will tell you, words can be the difference between guilty and innocent or a $1 verdict and a  $1,000,000 verdict.  Sometimes it is the choice of word that makes a difference.  For example, I tried a domestic violence case where the Defendant’s nickname was ‘thumper’.  That word probably stuck in the jury’s mind as it was repeated throughout the trial.  That trial that ended with a conviction.

Sometimes too many words can change a case.  If you talk to the insurance company or to law enforcement and say too much, those words might come back to bite you.  Trying a case with a confession is usually a lot easier than trying a case without one.

Sometimes too few words can change a case.  I began closing arguments in some cases with a moment of silence to remind the jury in domestic violence cases that silence is the sound a victim makes if they don’t come forward to report their abuser.

But when it comes to the law, how can a lawyer or a client use this information to their advantage?  The answer to that is a question humans have been asking for some time, although in a different form, the form of a parable.  It goes something like this:

Once upon a time an ancient wise man was said to live in top of a mountain.  Anyone who made it to the top could ask him two questions, which the wise man would answer with complete universal truth.  One day, a traveler went up the mountain and made it to the top.  He asked the wise man, “What is the secret to a happy life?”  The wise man said, “Good judgment.” The traveler persisted, “How do I get good judgment?”  The wise man said, “Bad judgment”.

There may not be a way to ensure the words you or your lawyer use are the right type or quantity.  But if you or your lawyer at least recognize the possible options, then you are further along than the person who doesn’t even consider their diction in the first place.

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