Speech 32: Legal Rhetoric


In this course, we will consider multiple forms of legal rhetoric, beginning with Cicero and ending with contemporary American jury trials. We will explore the unique challenges of legal argumentation, the style and structure of judicial written opinions, the types of legal/political speech that characterize lawmaking, and the classical rhetorical tools and techniques that underpin them all. Students will engage in theory-informed practice of both oral and written legal rhetoric: as trial counsel to Dr. Seuss characters accused, or accusing others, of wrongdoing; as appellate counsel or judges on the appeal of a medical malpractice verdict, and as legislators debating an environmental protection law.

No prerequisites. Limited enrollment.

Distributive: ART

Not offered in the period from 19X through 21S.

To view the ORC description, follow this link: Speech 32

Course Goals

The overriding goal of the course is for you to develop a nuanced understanding of legal rhetoric through study, thinking, and informed practice. We’ll use writing and speaking to make these discoveries, so along the way, we’ll refine our communication too. To achieve this goal, we will aim for the following primary learning objectives:

  • to become more informed about legal rhetoric in myriad forms; and
  • to engage in legal rhetoric (written and spoken) with informed understanding.

To meet these primary objectives, we will help you to:

  • approach the genre of legal rhetoric with a mindfulness of context and audience;
  • use rhetorical lenses to analyze trial arguments, including ancient Greek rhetorical strategies and contemporary jury summations;
  • study the special rhetorical style of legal appeals, including U. S. Supreme Court and state Supreme Court rhetoric;
  • read and understand judicial opinions, including those considering contemporary social issues, with the aid of rhetorical and/or social scientific theory;
  • evaluate legislative debate strategies;
  • prepare and deliver clear, convincing, dynamic trial arguments;
  • prepare and deliver persuasive appellate arguments;
  • prepare for and participate in legislative debate;
  • compare and contrast speech in legal contexts with other rhetorical situations; and
  • develop a deeper understanding of audience and its relationship with legal rhetoric in various contexts.

If you commit to this course, you will join a community of learners focused on developing a nuanced understanding of legal rhetoric, and you will develop skills in legal rhetoric, argument, and debate.