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The Sharpest Tool in the Toolbox: Visual Legal Rhetoric and Narrativity

18 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2017  

Michael D. Murray

University of Massachusetts School of Law

Date Written: September 21, 2017


The visual brief will become the norm in legal practice, because of the communicative and rhetorical power of visual media. Visual devices work rapidly, almost immediately, to communicate ideas and attain the audience’s adherence to the meaning and truth of the ideas communicated and thus to persuade the audience of the truth and propriety of the speaker’s communication, which allows greater perception, comprehension, and retention of information. Visual imagery is not only faster than words, it is better than words.

Law students and lawyers should be aware that the tool of visual rhetoric is very sharp, and because of the audience’s role in interpreting and understanding the message of visual works, the sharpness cuts in multiple directions. These attributes require special attention so as to avoid intentional or inadvertent misleading of the audience when using visual rhetorical devices.

This Article draws lessons from the power, complexity, and potential dangers of visual rhetoric regarding:

(A) the analysis of when to use or not use a visual;

(B) the decision to manipulate or not to manipulate images or video;

(C) the decision to use color or not to use color;

(D) the advisability of focus groups, or a wider and more diverse test audience; and

(E) the goal to capture the "decisive moment" in a visual.

Suggested Citation

Murray, Michael D., The Sharpest Tool in the Toolbox: Visual Legal Rhetoric and Narrativity (September 21, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Michael D. Murray (Contact Author)

University of Massachusetts School of Law ( email )

333 Faunce Corner Road
North Dartmouth, MA 02747
United States
219-299-9777 (Phone)

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