Skills: Legal Argumentation
Full course description
This course is not an introduction to comparative law – despite its official name. Instead, the course is an introduction to legal argumentation. It provides students with the tools to identify, structure, and evaluate the plausibility of legal arguments. These tools are not connected to a specific legal tradition or branch of law; they are general tools that can be used in the assessment of any legal argument presented by anyone in any jurisdiction. The course also works as a natural precursor to Academic Writing (Law 2001): here students will learn how to evaluate and develop their own legal arguments; in Academic Writing students will learn how to organise their arguments in the shape of an academic essay.
There are two main parts to this course. The first, which takes place in period 4, focuses on argumentation in general. Here students will be introduced to basic concepts and techniques from argumentation theory. They will be taught the main components of an argument, learn how to identify and extract different kinds of arguments from a text, learn a technique known as ‘argument reconstruction’, and some basic tools to evaluate the plausibility of arguments in general. Despite its focus on general argumentation, students will at this stage already be practicing their skills on real legal arguments.
The second part of the course, which takes place in period 5, deals with some specific features of legal argumentation. Legal argumentation characteristically relies on legal rules. But legal rules are often vague, indeterminate, and full of exceptions. As a result, it is not always clear how to formulate, reconstruct, and assess the plausibility of arguments that appeal to legal rules. The first few weeks of this part will be devoted to the specific challenges that the analysis and presentation of rule-based legal arguments gives rise to. This will involve a brief discussion on some common misconceptions about the so-called ‘legal syllogism’ and legal interpretation. Sometimes, however, the existing legal rules are silent on a given case. But even in those cases legal practitioners must still – and typically do – present arguments for a given legal conclusion. The arguments often appeal to principles, policy considerations, precedent, or make use of analogy. In the last few weeks of the course we will analyse some specific features of these arguments and learn how to reconstruct and evaluate their plausibility.
Students will be assessed in the following way:
- Period 4 (Week 7): Group assignment consisting of the written analysis of arguments taken from actual legal decisions or academic legal papers. (30%)
- Period 5 (Week 5): Group assignment consisting of the written analysis of arguments taken from actual legal decisions or academic legal papers. (30%)
- Period 5 (Week 7): Individual assignment consisting of the written analysis of arguments taken from actual legal decisions or academic legal papers. (40%)
- The final grade will be the sum of the points obtained in the assignments.
At the end of the course, students will be familiar with a range of concepts and tools from legal argumentation. Additionally, the course aims to enable students to:
- Identify and extract arguments from a legal text or case;
- Reconstruct legal arguments;
- Evaluate the plausibility of different kinds of legal arguments;
- Detect fallacious reasoning;
- Structure and present their own arguments in a rigorous way.