Legal Writing Tip - The Primacy Effect


This week my class continued to discuss writing a persuasive Argument section.  One of the topics we discussed was the "primacy effect."  The "primacy effect" is a cognitive psychology term for the principle that readers and listeners are likely to remember the information they read or hear first.  Jansen Voss, Student Article, The Science of Persuasion: An Exploration of Advocacy and the Science Behind the Art of Persuasion in the Courtroom, 29 Law & Psychol. Rev. 301, 311 (2005).

Thus, when writing a brief, you are able to persuade merely by placing important information first.  Placing important information first increases the likelihood that the reader (whether Judge or clerk) will read and remember the information.  So, consider leading your Argument section with a summary of the conclusions you wish the Judge to reach.  Placing the conclusion first aids the reader to remember it and also allows the hurried reader to immediately see the bottom-line.  For the same reasons, it is a good idea to use conclusion sentences for your headings and sub-headings. 

The primacy effect also indicates that leading the Argument with your strongest sub-section, leading your rule explanation with the most helpful authority for your client, and beginning your application with your strongest point can be effective persuasive techniques.