Consider the connotations | Holland & Hart – Persuasion Strategies


In the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the individual tried for killing two men and injuring a third during a demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, the judge set certain language conditions. According to press reports, the judge ruled that the Defense could qualify the men who were shot as “looters”, “rioters” and “arsonists”, but the prosecution may not describe the men as “victims” of a shooting, because the term “victim” is “a loaded, loaded word”. While this decision has been widely criticized as hypocritical and possibly indicating bias on the part of the judge, it should be remembered that all words are degree. More fundamentally, the argument is a reminder to pay attention to the language.

In a recent article (Crichton, 2020), a Howard University law professor begins by observing that “a surgeon uses a scalpel, a potter uses clay, and a lawyer uses words.” Professor Chrichton’s argument is that lawyers have a duty to be aware of the effects of language. And in this case, if jurors are encouraged to view those shot dead during a protest against police violence as “looters”, “rioters” and “arsonists”, but not “victims” then it certainly counts for the frame of mind that is applied to the case. Even in less sensational cases, labels matter. For example, is your client a “business”, “corporation”, “business” or “business”? Are we talking about a “failure”, a “break” or a “broken promise”? In all the ways we describe a case, it is essential to think about connotations. In this article, I’m going to share three convenient and quick ways to do this with all the options that are not forbidden by the judge.

Brainstorm on labels

There are many ways to phrase anything. When I think of an essay theme, for example, I will often try to grade as many ways as possible. Using columns, I will write labels or characterizations of the parts and try different ways to answer the question “who did what to whom?” Question, including all the different ways of characterizing core topics, actions, and predicates. It’s a good way to see what goes up to the top as the perfect expression.

Test reactions

When we are immersed in a business, we are all going to be limited by our individual perceptions. That’s why it’s a great idea to lead your language and case framing through a formal focus group, or even an informal “sounding board” to see what they’re thinking. If you are lucky enough to see false jurors deliberating, pay close attention to the words they use, especially when speaking in your defense.

Keep the end in mind

Language is a tool, a means to an end. So keep in mind, “What’s the end? »What is your goal and desired outcome? Obviously, you want your language and your story to make listeners favorable to your client and unfavorable to the other party. But more specifically, what kind of reactions do you want? Do you want them to see your customer as active or passive? As a central or peripheral? As powerful or helpless? Think about the state of mind that leads to the most favorable outcome, then think of terms that tend to accompany or invoke that state of mind. Word creation is an important part of telling your story, so keep thinking until you get it right.


Crichton, S, what happens when the media gets ahead of your client’s story? A Lawyer’s Duty to Use Conscious Word Choice (January 28, 2020). Available on SSRN: or

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