Write like a lawyer

Most copy fails because the logical structure of the argument is weak. You make assertions, but don’t back them up. You draw conclusions, but don’t explain how you got there.

Learn to structure your copy like a lawyer structures his case, so that the jury—your audience—can easily be persuaded that your story makes sense.


  • Lawyers need to be persuasive to win their case in court. A strong logical argument starts with assertions that are undisputedly true, and builds the case from there, without any surprising jumps in the logic. Logic jumps are bad.
  • An example of strong logic: “Cameras show that the crime was committed at 2:15pm. John was seen by others picking up his daughter at school around the same time. Therefore, John cannot have committed the crime.” — the conclusion is deducted clearly and logically from the axioms. People can follow the logic.
  • The same example, but with weak logic: “Cameras show that the crime was committed at 2:15pm. But John wasn’t there. Therefore, John cannot have committed the crime.” — this argument is weak, because it makes a logic jump to a conclusion we can’t follow: why wasn’t John at the crime scene?
  • Final example, with lots of distracting details: “Cameras show that the crime was committed at 2:15pm. The offender was wearing a balaclava and a blue jacket. John also owns a blue jacket. But John didn’t do it, because he was picking up his daughter from school.” — this argument is convoluted and hard to follow, and therefore not very convincing.
  • We marketers need to present a clear case to consumers on why they need to purchase our product. Chisel away at the argument to leave only the details that matter, and — most of all — avoid making any confusing logic jumps.

In Practice

Elon Musk skillfully uses first principles thinking not just to re-frame problems, but also to promote his own technology solutions. He demonstrated this when speaking about transitioning away from fossil fuels to address climate change.

Musk went back to first principles, arguing we must eliminate CO2 emissions by moving to sustainable energy. But he didn't stop there. Musk used these logical conclusions to highlight exactly how his companies like Tesla and SolarCity could provide the necessary sustainable technologies.

He touted the role electric vehicles could play in reducing demand for gasoline. And he emphasized how solar panels and batteries from SolarCity could generate carbon-free energy. Musk even quantified the potential impact, claiming the entire U.S. energy needs could be met with solar panels covering a fairly small land area.

By starting from first principles, Musk made an ironclad case for why sustainable energy is needed. This teed up a perfect opportunity to sell his solutions as obvious answers. Thanks to his pragmatic analysis, Musk's proposals felt like natural conclusions rather than self-serving pitches.

The clear logic of Musk’s famous “first principles thinking” allows him to reframe issues in alignment with his business interests. While ostensibly focused on climate facts, the end result functionally served as marketing for Tesla and SolarCity. Musk skillfully bent the conversation to not just illuminate problems, but highlight his companies’ technologies as necessary solutions.

Don’t bury the lede