Michael Sean Quinn*

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC) aka Cicero, one of history’s greatest lawyers, as well as one of the top 10 orators of Western Civilization, one of the top 50 philosophers thereof, and one of its top 100 constitutionist statesmen made the following remark, at least once: 

“You simply must believe the the argument you are advancing, otherwise you are lost. No chain of reasoning no matter how logical or elegant or brilliant, will win the case, if your audience senses that belief is missing.” (Emphasis added.)

Quinn’s Questions

1. Was Cicero right about this? (Doesn’t Cicero’s view entail that able actors cannot be effective litigators? Does the fact that Cicero’s Axiom pertain only to belief make any difference?)
2. How frequently do lawyers ever give elegant arguments these days in oral presentations? (Has there been, in our culture, a decline in the appreciation of elegance in rhetoric? Has there been a divorce between elegance and plausibility? Done some people believe that elegance in expression makes a position less plausible and hence less believable. 

3. What about in written briefs, or the like?

4. Are we trained to do this sort of thing?

5. Should we be?

6. How should that be done, if at all?

7. Would or should the Bar give CLE credit for this sort of course? (MSQ Hypothesis: Certainly not given its most recent denial of CLE credits.)

8. As a profession would we like our rhetorical world to be Ciceronian?

9. Is his view of the world of the advocating lawyer possible in the new, cyber-digital world?

10. A completely irrelevant question: Would the study of ancient philosophy of Stoicism (of which Cicero was a distinguished example and which was central to attorney ideology for many centuries, not all of them consecutive) make for a more noble profession, for example one as characterized by Bill Chris in his both with more or less that title.

11. A person can believe a proposition only if s/he believes that it is true. In a given case, a lawyer might not think s/he knows that it true or what counts as a legally sound (winning) argument, does this necessary make that lawyer a less effective advocate?  So, should lawyer endeavor to convince themselves that there positions, beliefs, and arguments are correct and true?  What if they fail? What should lawyers do about the prideful remarks they make about winning cases in which they did not believe but argued so dynamically? Isn’t this an element of bullshit?** Still, isn’t it an ancient essence of adversarial systems of justice?

*Michael Sean Quinn

Law Office of Michael Sean Quinn
1300 West Lynn Suite 208
Austin, TX 78703
Office Phone: 512-296-2594
Fax: 512-344-9466

Email: mquinn@msqlaw.com

**See the very short and immensely popular book entitled  ON BULLSHIT by Harry G. Frankfurt (2005), a distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University and a major player in American philosophy during the 4th quarter of the 20th century and still going strong. See my commentary on this book, “On Bullshit for Lawyer” also entitled “The Bullshitting Lawyer.”