Write On!, 1219 WYBJ, Vol. 42 No. 7. 44

AuthorMichael R. Smith, University of Wyoming College of Law Laramie, Wyoming
PositionVol. 42 7 Pg. 44

Write On!

Vol. 42 No. 7 Pg. 44

Wyoming Bar Journal

December, 2019

Traits of Credibility, Part 2: Honesty

Michael R. Smith, University of Wyoming College of Law Laramie, Wyoming

In the August 2019 edition of this column, I introduced the classical rhetoric concept of ethos, defined as "the process of persuading by establishing credibility as a trustworthy source of information."[1] In that discussion, we saw that credibility (ethos) has three distinct sub-components-intelligence, character, and good will-and that a writer must evince all three of these sub-components of credibility in order to gain the confidence of his or her reader. In this edition, I explore one of those sub-components, credible character, in greater detail.

In my Advanced Persuasive Writing textbook, I thoroughly examine the concept of "character" as an essential element of a persuasive legal writer's credibility.[2] That discussion identifies and analyzes five specific traits of character that effective legal writers must project through their writing: truthfulness, candor, respect, zeal, and professionalism.[3] Three of these character traits-truthfulness, candor, and professionalism-relate to the more general concept of honesty. This is no surprise, for honesty is by far the most crucial aspect of a legal writer's credible character.

The opposite of honesty is dishonesty, and a legal writer can undermine his or her credibility by being dishonest either through the substance of the writer's argument or through deceptive writing tactics. Let's explore these two forms of dishonesty in legal writing in more detail.

Substantive Dishonesty

In order for a legal writer to earn the confidence of a reader, the writer must demonstrate that he or she is truthful and candid about the substance of the matter at hand. Truthfulness refers to being honest through what one states expressly. A legal writer is untruthful when he or she expressly misstates the facts or the law of a matter with the intent to deceive the reader. Undoubtedly, being untruthful in a court brief about the facts or the law can severely undermine a writer's credibility in the eyes of the court.

Lack of candor is related to, but different from, untruthfulness. Whereas untruthfulness occurs through express misrepresentation, a lack of candor refers to misleading through the omission of damaging information. We can see an example of a lack of...

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