Ethos: How to show intelligence
29 October 2021
As we’ve seen in prior posts, an important mode of persuasion is ethos, the appeal based on the character of the speaker or writer. Ethos equates to trustworthiness. An advocates projects trustworthiness by showing intelligence, benevolence toward the audience, and high moral character. Today’s subject: how to show intelligence. For legal advocates, the answer is simple: do your homework.
If you made it through law school and passed the bar exam, you have all the innate intelligence you need. But simply having innate intelligence is not enough to project the ethos quality of intelligence. To project intelligence, the argument or brief “must show that the speaker or writer has an adequate, if not a professionally erudite, grasp of the subject being talked about, that the speaker or writer knows and observes the principles of valid reasoning, is capable of viewing a situation in the proper perspective, has read widely, and has good taste and discriminating judgment.” Edward P.J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student 72–73 (4th ed. 1999). For the appellate advocate, the standard is not merely “adequate,” but “professionally erudite.” That means knowing the record and the applicable law backwards and forwards. In two words: read everything. It also requires being able to think logically, which requires a working knowledge of logic. For help with that, read Judge Ruggero Aldisert’s book Logic for Lawyers. Finally, the advocate must come across as a reasonable person, not a bomb thrower.
In his book Advanced Legal Writing, p. 148 (2d ed. 2008), Professor Michael Smith offers a list of 11 qualities that an intelligent legal writer is perceived to have:
- Adept at legal research
- Empathetic toward the reader
- Detail oriented
Smith’s book includes an entire chapter on ways a brief writer can demonstrate these qualities, with illustrative examples. I highly recommend it, along with the other books cited in this post. If you’re interested in buying any of these books, click on the book’s link in the right sidebar of this blog under the heading “Books for La. Appellate Lawyers.”