The importance of ethos
Next year’s DRI Appellate Seminar

How to fake do ethos

The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.
—attributed to Jean Giradoux

As we saw in my last post, the three components of an advocate’s ethos or trustworthiness are intelligence, honesty, and benevolence—or more accurately, the judge’s perception that the advocate is intelligent, honest, and benevolent. How does one create this impression? As observed by Corbett and Connors,

[a]n obvious answer, of the general sort, is that a person must truly possess these qualities. “No one gives what he does not have,” as the Latin maxim puts it.

They were kidding, just a little bit. They themselves also said that, according to Aristotle, it is the speech or writing itself that much create this impression. It follows that we all can create our own ethos by acting intelligently, honestly, and benevolently when we write a brief or give an oral argument. That’s how any virtue works: we act as if we have the virtue, and the habit of so acting makes us virtuous.

That’s the good news. The other news (I don’t want to call it “bad news”) is that displaying intelligence, honesty, and benevolence in a brief or oral argument takes a lot of work—especially the intelligence part. There are no shortcuts. Contrary to Jean Giradoux, you can’t fake ethos. But you can do ethos. How to do that will be the subject of the next few posts.


  • Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student 72 (4th ed. 1999).
  • Michael R. Smith, Advanced Legal Writing 125–26 (2d ed. 2008).


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