Dateline: August, 2008, Issue 1

How do successful and unsuccessful prosecutors and defense attorneys speak?

Parkinson (1981) studied the speech of male prosecutors and defense attorneys from courtroom transcripts.

Successful prosecutors were verbally assertive, took command of the courtroom, spoke at length, asked large numbers of questions, usually employed direct language in the indicative case, and referred directly to witnesses. Unsuccessful prosecutors used more polite language, excessively correct grammatical speech, and conditional statements. Successful and unsuccessful prosecutor speech was able to predict verdicts 78% of the time.

Successful defense attorneys used large amounts of abstract and ambiguous language, more legal jargon, fewer adverbs, and fewer words referring to something that can be sensed with the physical senses. Unsuccessful defense attorneys used demonstrative pronouns and excessively correct grammatical speech. Successful and unsuccessful defense speech was able to predict verdicts 81% of the time.

The speech of successful and unsuccessful prosecutors differs, as does the speech of successful and unsuccessful defense attorneys. The speech of successful prosecutors and successful defense attorneys also differs.

Source Parkinson, M. G. (1981). Verbal behavior and courtroom success. Communication Education, 30, pp. 22-32.