How To Argue and Win Every Time by Gerry Spence

July 7, 2017
BY: Domhnall O'Cathain

Earlier this summer, I saw a video clip of a lawyer at a boot camp talking about her client. Her client was charged with a crime and from the video clip, it appeared to be a very serious crime. Now, the lawyer was trying to figure out how to pick a jury for the case.

Her first problem?

The first thing a jury would see is an accused client with tattoos on his face.

An Unorthodox Strategy

Gerry Spence stood next to the attorney and asked her, “Where are you going to start?”

Not sure” she responded.

Gerry replies, “Yes, you are sure, you absolutely know …”

And then she started. She was slow. She was sincere:

When I first met my client —— I was scared. I didn’t want to be —  alone in a room — with him —– He’s scary looking —– He’s got a beard — tattoos on his face —– Looks like — he – he would commit the crime he is charged with…”

With those words, the message is already clear to the jury – “I am standing here with my client today because I now know he is innocent”

Most attorneys would never dare talk about a client like that. But then again, most attorneys don’t have Gerry Spence’s record in court. Wikipedia states that, as of 2014, he never lost a criminal trial and hadn’t lost a civil trial since 1969. Wikipedia states that he is now semi-retired.

The Science of the Argument

I first came across Gerry Spence’s name in February 2002. I was in a library in New Zealand. It was summertime down under – weekdays spent working in the orchards and weekends at the beach. The name of the book sounded good and I liked the idea of winning arguments.

The book had an impact on me:

  • For one thing, it helped me decide that I wanted to be a lawyer. Before reading the book, I already had a law degree from Ireland but had drifted away from the idea of being a lawyer.
  • More importantly, it helped me understand when to argue and when not to argue.
  • Most importantly, it helped me hear other people’s arguments and to understand why they want to argue.

Have I won every argument since reading the book? Absolutely not.

Has it made me a better lawyer? I hope so.

And the book is also entertaining for the stories that are told.

Lawyer or not a lawyer, if you like stories like this from rural Wyoming, you will enjoy the book:

“Mr. Hayes, I come to see ya,” Henry said

“Always good to see you, Henry. Have a seat. What is on your mind?”

“Well, Mr. Hayes, I was wonderin’ if ya took a bath this mornin’?”

“Why would you ask such a question, Henry. Of course, I took a bath this morning!”

“Well, I was wantin’ a know if you took a bath because I want to borrow some money from ya, and I know I’m gonna have ta kiss yer ass fer it”

What was the outcome? Henry, an old rancher, got the loan.

I bought the book a few months ago. I haven’t read it in 15 years except to leaf through it and pull out the story about Henry. When I last read the book, I wasn’t a lawyer, I wasn’t married, and I didn’t have kids. I look forward to reading the book to see how I have changed.