Characterization and Legal Discourse

Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 46, p. 372, 1996

35 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2008

See all articles by Laura E. Little

Laura E. Little

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law


Characterization is the art of taking a problem and (re)framing it in terms that reflect favorably upon the speaker or the particular point of view she wishes to advocate. Lawyers must characterize all the time, whether they aree arguing on behalf of a client in court, writing legal memoranda, or negotiating the terms of a contract. However, characterization is more than an empty legal rhetorical device. It is also a skill commonly used by lawyers and non-lawyers alike in their everyday lives.

In this article, Professor Little presents characterization technique both in the context of everyday life and in the context of legal practice and pedagogy. Drawing from real-life examples and a variety of academic disciplines, Professor Little defines the concept of "characterization," and outlines the steps involved in characterizing a particular issue or dispute. Professor Little then provides four different characterization models to guide legal practitioners in choosing an appropriate characterization for different tasks and different audiences. Finally, she discusses the importance of characterization study in legal education, not only as a means of developing law students' lawyering skills, but also as a means of encouraging students to relate the law back to everyday life, embrace different perspectives, work towards responsible lawyering, and appreciate the human aspect of practicing law.

Keywords: legal education, rhetoric, advocacy, persuasion, legal argument, interdisciplinary studies, professional responsibility, legal problem-solving, conflict of laws, jurisprudence, characterization, spinning, frame shifting

JEL Classification: I21, K10, K19, K30, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Little, Laura E., Characterization and Legal Discourse. Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 46, p. 372, 1996. Available at SSRN:

Laura E. Little (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8955 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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