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Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Parable that Helps Students to Sift Facts in Case Analysis

IN a world where rumour and innuendo flies more quickly, makes more noise, and is often so much more exciting than the facts, our students can be forgiven for not understanding that the facts we use at trial need to be reliable.

The following very short parable helps them to understand, and we teachers to remember, the qualities of the evidence we'd like to lead at trial.

It has the added attraction of fitting into Charlie Rose III's signature approach to memorable advocacy that if it matters, then like him, it will have three parts.

In ancient Greece (469 - 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students...?
"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me, I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Test of Three."

"Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to test what you're going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man replied, "actually I just heard about it."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, "You may still pass though because there is a third test - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"


  1. Great story. I start teaching a summer term trial advocacy class next week, and I think I am going to forward this post to them.

    Many students might respond to Socrates' final question with this: "Because it's in the case file!"

  2. Hugh, I liked this a lot, how could I not? Can you tell me a reliable original source where it might be found - now of course if it sprung forth from your head like Athena from the brow of Zeus I have no problems with that. I think I may start my discussion about relevant evidence with this bit.