Know Your Client: Maximizing Advocacy by Incorporating Client-Centered Principles into Legal Writing Rhetoric Practice

Jason Cohen

Rutgers School of Law-Camden

October 19, 2009

Charlotte Law Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2009

This article seeks to slightly shift the landscape of legal writing theory, from one which primarily asks the writer to consider the audience, to one which also incorporates principles of client-centeredness which require the writer to focus equally on the client. Today, legal writing's model of persuasion communication is almost exclusively a linear theory that focuses on the dialogue between the attorney/writer and the decision-maker/judge. This model is embodied in legal writing's well-established advice that attorneys must "know their audience." The roots of this theory are well established: Classical and New Rhetoric Theory have consistently emphasized the audience's role in persuasive discourse.

Clinicians, however, have developed theories of client-centered lawyering which require that the attorney uncover their client's values, goals and objectives that may go well beyond the discrete litigation at hand. Client-centeredness encourages the attorney to incorporate this information into his/her advocacy on behalf of their client. This article advocates incorporating select principles from client-centered lawyering into legal writing. The primary purpose for this application is persuasion and advocacy, not necessarily empowering the disenfranchised client.

This article begins first by exploring current theory from legal writing scholarship which focuses on the writer's need to write for the audience. Although by now, the "know your audience" approach is somewhat ingrained, what may not be well known is that this approach stems historically from rhetorical theories of communication. After establishing the rhetorical connection to audience, and the devices used to write for the audience, the article next explores the development of client-centered lawyering, which traditionally focuses on achieving the greatest client satisfaction, beyond merely winning the case. Inherent in this approach is the dialogue that must occur between practitioner and client. Third, the article proposes application of principles from client-centered theory to legal writing theory, suggesting a shift from relying solely on a "know your audience" approach to now also including a "know your client" approach. The devices that lawyers have been taught regarding audience can also be applied to knowing the client. Finally, the article concludes by examining practical examples of incorporating client-centered principles into advocacy writing.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 22

Keywords: legal writing, rhetoric, lawyering, know your audience, client-centeredness, persuasion, advocacy

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Date posted: October 20, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Jason, Know Your Client: Maximizing Advocacy by Incorporating Client-Centered Principles into Legal Writing Rhetoric Practice (October 19, 2009). Charlotte Law Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1491202

Contact Information

Jason Cohen (Contact Author)
Rutgers School of Law-Camden ( email )
217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102-1203
United States
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