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Metaphors: beyond writing to a fundamental of thinking

If we say that the company lost the case when it slipped on a banana peel of the jury, the metaphor conveys much. A fascinating series of articles in the J. Assoc. Legal Writing Directors, Fall 2010, argue for the pervasiveness and power of metaphors. Metaphorical writing serves a decorative function which enhances persuasiveness. Metaphors make abstract concepts more concrete. Metaphors resemble reasoning by analogy because they compare one concept with another; they unleash creative thought and are famously concise. Language fails without metaphors.

If a general counsel refers to the legal team as a family, the metaphor ripples in many directions (a deliberate metaphor). An in-house lawyer who refers to constructing a license agreement that is airtight and balanced like a seesaw invokes multiple evocative metaphors. Metaphors are lenses for perceiving multiple aspects of the situation simultaneously, such as if a litigator complains about the fog of trial. When we speak of layers of reports in a law department, the metaphor of layers draws in such concepts as hierarchy, levels, depth, power, and fixed structure. Or “the boundaries of law departments” suggests physical enclosure, solidity, collapse of walls, clarity, and more.

Whereas metaphors once mounted only a linguistic burro, more recently they ride the steeds of cognition (another deliberate metaphor). Metaphors appear to be fundamental to how we think. Effective metaphors map concepts across different domains and enrich how we view the world. When in-house counsel write and think, they should consciously relish and unleash the potency of metaphors.

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