How to Argue Like a (Good) Lawyer

Here’s a question for anyone who has ever tried to win an argument with a lawyer:
At what point did you realise that you might be better off just lying down and playing dead until they’ve made their point? Five minutes? Two hours? Ten years?

When it comes to making an argument, great lawyers rely on three traits: Tenacity, objectivity and outcome-driven strategy.

The good news for you is that anyone can learn how to use these mental tools to win a debate. Read on, and you’ll be in with a fighting chance the next time you’ve got a bone to pick!

Read time: 2 minutes.

1. Don’t Get Distracted

Good lawyers win arguments not by muddying the waters, but by sticking to one or two key issues and refusing to deviate from them.

Arguments are not the place to blurt out hypotheticals and half-baked ideas. Avoid the natural urge to bring up unrelated matters when you feel like you’re losing. And, if the other party does this, politely let them know you’ll discuss other issues once you’ve resolved the matter at hand.

2. Stay Cool At All Costs

There is a good reason that lawyers have a reputation for being cold, emotionless creatures (sharks, if you will): This kind of objectivity is what allows you to make informed, balanced decisions.

When you’re arguing with someone remember:

Stick to the facts: Gather as much relevant information you can before you engage in any debate.
Avoid making assumptions: Ask questions instead of making assumptions about other people’s actions or motives.
Take a break when things get heated: If the argument devolves into a name-calling match or someone starts threatening or shouting, call a recess. Whether it is ten minutes or a whole day, this break will give both parties time to calm down, talk to trusted advisors and decide how they want to proceed.

3. Determine What You Want to Achieve Before You Start

Television lawyers are best known for issuing verbal smackdowns. Their fictional adversaries are left reeling, they strut back to their seats looking insufferably smug and their clients can’t seem to get enough of their witty one-liners.

In reality, this is not how brilliant lawyers operate. A great lawyer won’t worry about embarrassing their opponents – instead, they’ll focus on marrying the outcomes their client wants to achieve with the outcomes their client can achieve.

In the words of business mentor Bryan Worn, “The success of a communication is the outcome of a communication.”

Always consider your end game before engaging in an argument or a debate:

  • Do you want to maintain your relationship with the person you’re up against?
  • What are your goals (to be heard, to get an apology or material outcome, to enforce an agreement)?
  • Which of your goals is highest/lowest on your priority list?
  • How likely is it that you will achieve each of your goals?
  • What will you do if you can’t achieve them all?
  • What are you willing to compromise?

Asking yourself “Does saying [x] increase or decrease my chances of achieving [y]?” will exponentially increase the likelihood of you getting what you want in the end.