The importance of metaphors to trial lawyers

George Lakoff is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. He has previously taught at Harvard University and is a well known authority in linguistics. He has written several books and is associated with the Rockridge Institute who offer internet information on the subject of language and communications. Lakoff wrote a book, Metaphors We Live By along with co author Mark Johnson. Lakoff confirms what research has demonstrated, that reality is defined by metaphor. Metaphors are part of our everyday language, they are the means by which we communicate, teach and learn. As metaphors vary from culture to culture so do they realties they define.

On a recent trip I took the time to look for metaphors in the front page of USA Today as an experiment just to see how frequently they are used in communication. Here are just a few of the examples I found:

  • Slippery slope for U.S. sewers: age, rains, funding shortfalls a bad mix
  • It’s been a roller coaster in emergency operations
  • You’ve got a lot of arm chair searchers out there
  • The Congressman wants to get troops out of playing the world’s policemen
  • America needs to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel
  • Any time we make suggestions they fall on deaf ears
  • He tiptoed into changes
  • Bush’s plan is too little, too late and unacceptable
  • Bush is peddling the same false promises of success that got us into Iraq
  • When President Bush brought down the curtain on a week of extraordinary stagecraft
  • At one level, this is political sleight of hand
  • But Congress isn’t about to hand the president a blank check.
  • A blizzard of advances in medicine
  • Costs of social security and health care poses a Titanic threat

Metaphors are used continuously in communications. They are part of our language. They represent shortcuts to communication and they are powerful when used properly. We must learn to utilize metaphors as trial lawyers in communicating with juries. The skill of how we do this plays an important part in our trial success.

About Paul Luvera

Plaintiff trial lawyer for 50 years. Past President of the Inner Circle of Advocates & Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Member American Board of Trial Advocates, American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy, International Society of Barristers, member of the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame & speaker at Spence Trial College
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