Write On!, 1220 WYBJ, Vol. 43 No. 6. 52

AuthorMichael R. Smith University of Wyoming College of Law Laramie, Wyoming
PositionVol. 43 6 Pg. 52

Write On!

No. Vol. 43 No. 6 Pg. 52

Wyoming Bar Journal

December, 2020

Traits of Credibility, Part 5: Organization as a Sign of Intelligence

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

This article represents the fifth installment in my continuing series on ethos: the process by which a legal writer establishes credibility as a trustworthy source of information in the eyes of his or her reader. In the introduction to this series, I explained that advocate credibility contains three distinct sub-components: intelligence, character, and good will.[1] The last three articles in this series focused primarily on traits of credible character and good will. Tis article begins the discussion of the third sub-component of credibility: intelligence.

Classical rhetorician and philosopher Aristotle recognized long ago that an advocate must project intelligence in order to gain the confidence of his or her audience.[2] Not surprisingly, Aristotle’s observation has been confirmed by modern research in cognitive and social psychology. As one team of legal advocacy experts noted, “[R]esearch proves what Aristotle suggested more than 2000 years ago: the importance of knowledge as an element of ethos. A[n] [advocate] who is perceived to be intelligent and authoritative will generally be more persuasive.”[3]

One important trait of intelligence is organization. As I explain in my Advanced Persuasive Writing textbook, [An important] trait of an intelligent legal writer is that the writer is organized. In general terms, people who approach and think about problems in an organized way are typically perceived by others as being intelligent and capable. This is also true in the context of legal writing. Legal audiences generally have more confidence in advocates who appear to possess strong organizational skills. Conversely, legal audiences tend to be skeptical of arguments and advice given by an advocate who appears to be confused and disorganized.[4]

The Wyoming Supreme Court case of BP America Production Company v. Department of Revenue[5] provides a compelling example of how evincing skills in organization can enhance an advocate’s credibility and persuasiveness. In this case, oil and gas company B P, as a taxpayer, appealed decisions by the Wyoming Department of Revenue (DOR) and the State Board of Equalization regarding the assessment of ad valorem taxes. In...

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