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All Humans Are Mortal: Syllogisms for Legal-Analysis Success


Legal analysis is one of the most challenging concepts for new law students to master. This is because human brains usually connect the dots automatically without considering how to articulate what we instinctively know. Using conditional syllogisms is a helpful hack for constructing persuasive analysis. You have probably heard a professor mention syllogisms in passing, but it is a topic well worth another look. 

A conditional syllogism consists of three lines (major premise, minor premise, conclusion), and each line contains two parts (antecedent and consequent):

The most cited syllogism of all time flows as follows:

Let’s look at an example using the principal rule articulated in Lucy v. Zehmer. First, start by forming an if-then statement with the rule triggered by the facts:

Next, pull the relevant facts that relate to this rule:

The first two lines are complete, and the final line will be whether the legal rule was or was not satisfied. This is where the analysis comes in. To do this, simply connect the dots between items (4) and (1). In other words, does (4) equal (1)?

In this example, we are asking whether:

Now connect the legally-relevant facts using synonyms, antonyms, analogies, cause-and-effect, or explanations of what the rule does or does not require. So the analysis could be written like this:

Applying a signature has indicated a desire to enter into an agreement for thousands of years. Because Lucy could not read minds, only the reasonable meaning of Zehmer’s words and actions are determinative of his intention. From and ordinary and reasonable person’s perspective, there was nothing to indicate that Zehmer was anything other than willing to enter into the agreement.

Now, finish the syllogism with the conclusion line:

This simple example is by no means exhaustive of everything worth knowing about syllogisms. Instead, this is a reminder to peruse some of the logic-and-reasoning books available online or in your library. Analytical reasoning is the foundation of a robust legal mind and a necessary skill that every lawyer must possess. 

Jayson Thomas and Matthew Marin Jayson Thomas attends WMU-Cooley Law School. He is a member of the WMU-Cooley Law Review and Senator of the Student Bar Association. Professor Matthew Marin works at WMU-Cooley Law School and teaches Contracts, Bar Skills, and other academic support courses and workshops. He is also WMU-Cooley’s Director of Academic & Student Services.