February 2012 Bar Bulletin
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February 2012 Bar Bulletin

Be Sincere, Be Brief, Be Seated: The Soul of Wit

By Paul Luvera

 

"Brevity is the soul of wit."
William Shakespeare
Hamlet

Long before Shakespeare, the importance of brevity in communication had been noted. Horace in 65 B.C. wrote, "Unless you are brief, your complete plan of thought will seldom be grasped. Before you reach the conclusion, the reader or listener has forgotten the beginning and the middle."

In spite of the wisdom of history, walk into any courtroom and listen to the typical lawyer asking questions of a witness or arguing to a judge. The questions usually are not questions and the argument isn't a logical outline of thought. Instead it is all speeches. Boring and confusing. Remember the advice: "Be sincere, be brief, be seated."

Great thought seldom requires lengthy words. The Lord's Prayer has only 56 words. The Gettysburg Address has 256 words. The Ten Command­ments are only 297 words and the Declaration of Independence a mere 300. Yet the Internal Revenue Code exceeds 3.4 million words compared to the Christian Bible's 774,746.

Modern neuroscience and research confirm that a great majority of our decisions are not made at a conscious level, but instead at an unconscious level. That means that a trial is a battle of impressions and not logic. The jury essentially makes decisions on the basis of their perception of the facts reviewed by their existing bias, values and unconscious processes, rather than solely on the words and facts presented.

Jurors are persuaded by the impressions they form and then ratify these impressions with intellectual reasoning and logic as they perceive it. Therefore, how we present information is as important as the information we are presenting. The result is that simplicity, brevity and clarity are of great importance in effective communication.


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