"William Gropper, Untitled (Man crumpling paper in courtroom), n.d., color lithograph on paper, sheet: 17 1⁄2 x 22 1⁄2 in. (44.4 x 57.1 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of David Schiffer, 1993.3.3, © 1953, William Gropper."
February 29, 2024

Courtroom Persuasion à la grecque

Jesse James
Reid Hall | 4, rue de Chevreuse, 75006 Paris
Free and open to the public

Legal systems are not just sets of abstract rules; they are embedded in society and imbued with mythologies and psychologies. A myth about English law is that it arose autochthonously on the island of Britain and developed independent of outside influence. After it emigrated to the North American colonies, another myth tells us that U.S. law emerged new, like a phoenix, from the fire of revolution and the U.S. Constitution. A converse myth describes the death of ancient Greek law with the absorption, two millennia ago, of Greek cities into the Roman empire and Roman law. According to this story, Greek law became a historical dead end.

Both myths are wrong, and for some of the same reasons. As the trial procedures of English and American law began to resemble ancient Greek trials, English and American lawyers came, more and more, to study and adopt the techniques of legal persuasion practiced and theorized by ancient Greeks. These techniques relied on psychologies of persuasion especially relevant to the adversarial nature of all three legal systems, in which rhetoric, emotion, and politics can be just as important as science, logic, and law.

Learn more about Jesse James


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