Students of the Civil Rights Clinic and the Law & Rhetoric Course Come Together.

Classical rhetoricians like Aristotle, Quintilian, Isocrates, and Cicero, were concerned with “preparing young men for the roles as citizens by teaching them to be skilled persuasive speakers in various situations,” writes Professor James M. Dubinsky of Virginia Tech in his article, “Service-Learning as a Path to Virtue: The Ideal Orator in Professional Communication.” The lawyer has always been in a unique and privileged position in our society. As legal writers, we strive to produce our best arguments in hope of serving our clients to the best of our capabilities. This is where rhetoric is most useful to us, as a tool for legal analysis. The study of rhetoric enables us as lawyers to determine the best ways to organize our reasoning, to determine our best strategies, and to tell our clients’ story in way that is most persuasive and beneficial. It requires us not only to be great lawyers, but great public servants. The skills that the study of rhetoric teaches us, allows us to be more effective in taking on the legal challenges lawyers face. Because of a lawyer’s unique position in society and the power we possess to implement change, rhetoric is more important to us than most.

According to Aristotle, the study of rhetoric enables individuals to discover “in the particular case what are the available means of persuasion.” Aristotle, Rhetoric. Philosophers who came after Aristotle such as Cicero extended this concept, noting that “the orators’ importance lies in their ability to bring help to the suppliant, to raise up those that are cast down, to bestow security, to set free from peril, to maintain men in their civil rights.” Dubinsky, “Service-Learning” pg.61). Professor Erin Kane’s Law & Rhetoric (L&R) course and Professor Jason Huber’s Civil Rights Clinic (CRC), both at the Charlotte School of Law (CSL) are working together this semester with the aim to help students hone in on these important rhetorical skills. This unique collaboration will help students in becoming more effective in their verbal communication and writing, making them into better advocates to serve society.

Aristotle, author of Rhetoric

We live in world where we can communicate instantaneously to almost anyone, making the study of rhetoric more important than ever. Videos and posts now go viral and can spark unprecedented change. From a man in Tunisia who set himself on fire in protest of his oppressive government which sparked demonstrations across the Arab world and what is now called the Arab Spring, to groups on Facebook who started an on-going revolution in Egypt: rhetoric is all around us.

Aristotle’s three persuasive audience appeals, EthosPathos, and Logos are rhetorical devices that we use every day and most often don’t even realize. Known as the Rhetorical Triangle, ethos means character; it is the convincing through credibility. When we have ethos, we are projecting our authority over a certain subject, conveying to the audience that we are someone worth listening too, such as a lawyer. Pathos refers to the persuasion of an audience through emotional appeal. Logos is the means of persuading through reasoning, it is most likely the most important for a lawyer, for it is our reasoning that we use to justify our arguments. When these three are in balance that is when we are most effective in our discourse.

In law school, students lack the time for an in-depth study of rhetoric. Professor Kane’s unique law school course allows her students to have the opportunity to provide rhetorical analysis concerning the projects the CRC will be working on this semester.

Professor Kane requires her students to do “service-learning” projects throughout the semester. These projects allow them to practice the rhetorical analysis they learn through real ongoing projects and at the same time become involved in the community. Beside’s working with the CRC, Professor Kane’s students are engaged in other service-learning projects like the Charlotte Men’s Shelter and local youth mentoring programs. Service-learning allows students to become involved in their communities and at the same time become modern rhetoricians. As lawyers, we are all “advocates,” the question remains, how effective we are at it, Professor Kane’s L&R course is as much about an in-depth study of rhetoric as it is realizing how effective we can be as orators and writers. Such collaboration between the CRC and the L&R course at CSL demonstrates an undertaking in which rhetoric will be used to make better lawyers by implementing the importance of civic values through service-learning.

Community involvement seemed to be essential to classical rhetoricians, for they emphasized using practical skills for the common good to the young men they were teaching. Dubinsky, “Service-Learning” pg.61). Such emphasis is becoming essential to many lawyers today. The Legal Ease Blog shows us the importance for lawyers to be involved in the community as well as its practical benefits. Lawyers helping their communities benefit from word of mouth, making traditional lawyer advertising unnecessary according to a post by Noble McIntyre, a personal injury lawyer in Ohio. The “highest point of contribution” students can make to society involves a balance between their talent, passion, and what’s available in the marketplace. The CRC students are indeed passionate about their work; just attend one of their meetings or meet one of them and you’ll see. The students of the L&R course are in collaboration with their passionate CRC colleagues to help them obtain their “highest point of contribution,” as well as obtain their own “highest point.”

While sitting in Professor Jason Huber’s CRC at CSL, one can easily see the importance of rhetoric in their work. The CRC exists to advocate for citizen civil rights causes. As advocates, the students have opportunities to implement important change to further protect the civil rights of its local community. While at a CRC meeting, one instantly recognizes Professor Huber’s unique facilitating style. The Clinic can get loud, really loud, ideas and laughter bouncing back and forth around the room: Professor Huber’s style, more appropriately his rhetoric, encourages and persuades his students to be effective and better advocates.

Regarding Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC this year, CNN’s David Gergen wrote “Wednesday’s talk was the best and most influential he has given since leaving the White House a dozen years ago.” After the DNC, President Obama’s poll numbers bounced in his favor, showing the value of good rhetoric in today’s society.

The CRC is accomplishing great things. Great things like their work at this year’s Democratic National Convention, documenting protester arrests and making sure their civil rights were not infringed. There work with “Ban the Box,” a grassroots campaign in Charlotte aimed at encouraging employers to end employment discrimination based on past criminal records, advocating for another chance for these individuals to become revitalized members of the community. Also, the Rehabilitation Certificate project which focuses on advocating and obtaining court orders which issue certificates to these individuals showing that these citizens have been rehabilitated following a criminal conviction which in turn will help them secure better employment opportunities and improve their lives. The CRC also created a program which trains students to be hearing officers at Charlotte Housing Authority hearings’. Every week, the Charlotte Housing Authority holds Section 8 termination hearings to determine whether a participant’s voucher to affordable housing will be terminated. The students are trained to determine such issues, and by being involved in such a sensitive and important socio-economic issue, these students are diving into the realm of civic duty that classical rhetoricians in the past have written about. Such projects require law students to be engaged in the community, and the study of rhetoric will aid students of the CRC in their important endeavors by helping them in their effectiveness as society advocates.

This exciting new relationship will allow students from both the Civil Rights Clinic and the Law & Rhetoric course at the Charlotte School of Law to become modern day rhetoricians. Stressing the balance of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos and the importance of rhetorical analysis as a legal tool for our writing and verbal communications, as well as the civic duty lawyers carry in shaping our society.

By: John Hanna

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