How to Organise Complex Legal Arguments in Academic Writing?


I. What is a complex legal argument?

II. How to build a strong complex legal argument?

III. How to present a complex legal argument effectively?



Complex legal arguments are essential to academic legal writing, and organising them can significantly benefit legal professionals. However, building an elaborate legal argument can be challenging, requiring careful attention to detail and a clear understanding of the underlying principles. Nevertheless, by understanding the fundamental components of any argument and following certain practical strategies, legal writers can construct compelling multi-layered arguments that are both logical and easy to understand. Therefore, this blog will discuss what complex legal arguments are, how they are constructed and presented effectively.

An argument is a set of organised and coherent ideas that aims to persuade someone to adopt a particular belief or take a specific action.[1] To create a convincing argument, it is crucial to understand its structure. An argument consists of two parts: premises and a conclusion.[2] Premises are claims that support the conclusion. In other words, the premises are the reasons provided in an argument, and the conclusion is the main idea that these reasons support. For example:

Premise 1: Every person has the right to bodily autonomy.
Premise 2: The decision to have an abortion falls under a person’s right to bodily autonomy.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion should be legal and accessible to individuals who choose to have one.

This argument is considered simple because it only has one inference or a single conclusion drawn from the given premises.[3] However, some arguments may contain smaller arguments within them, which are known as “intermediate conclusions”.[4] They are conclusions that are reached while advancing towards the ultimate conclusion of the argument. An argument is considered complex when it contains one or more intermediate conclusions.[5] For instance, the author wants to construct a nuanced argument against abortion right:

Premise 1: A Fetus has a right to life.
Premise 2: A pregnant woman has a right to bodily autonomy.
Intermediate conclusion:These rights  conflict in cases of abortion.
Premise 3: The right to life is absolute and takes precedence over the right to bodily autonomy.
Ultimate conclusion: Therefore, abortion should be illegal.

The example above is a complex argument that consists of multiple premises leading to numerous conclusions. The first and second premises together form an intermediate conclusion. This intermediate conclusion then combines with the third premise to form the final conclusion. It is worth noting that arguments can have multiple intermediate conclusions and be more complicated than the example above.

Now that it has been established what complex legal arguments are and how they are constructed, it is important to discuss strategies for effectively building them. A complex argument is considered strong when no gaps exist between its premises and conclusion.[6] This requirement for consistency means that every step of the argument needs to fit logically with the previous and subsequent steps.[7] Hence, a logical argument should not contain any unproven connections.[8] For example, a faulty line of reasoning that argues for abortion rights may look something like this:

1. Reproductive rights are protected by the law.
2. Women are the subject of reproductive rights.
3. Therefore, women should have the right to have an abortion.

This argument is flawed because it fails to connect abortion and reproductive rights. We need to add another premise to bridge the gap:

1. Reproductive rights are protected by law.
2. Women are the subjects of reproductive rights.
3. Abortion is a reproductive right.
4. Therefore, women should have the right to have an abortion.

Although the example above is relatively straightforward, it illustrates an important point: each element of an argument must have a logical and coherent connection to the next. This connection becomes especially crucial when working with complex arguments, and one misstep in constructing the argument can undermine its overall structure and strength.[9]

Apart from logical coherence, it is equally crucial to ensure that the argument is easy to understand, particularly when dealing with thorough ideas. Nuanced arguments can be challenging to follow, and readers may misinterpret the message, especially when the author explains abstract concepts or general principles.[10] That is why authors need to use illustrative narratives to promote clarity in communication.[11] Illustrative narratives demonstrate how a general principle or abstract rule is applied in real-life situations.[12]

By giving this kind of illustrative narratives, the author can conveniently avoid any confusion and misunderstanding within the argument.

In summary, a solid and clear complex argument can be constructed by implementing two essential steps: first, establishing clear connections between the elements of the argument to ensure structural integrity; and second, ensuring that the content of the argument is easily understandable. These steps lead to a well-organised and well-articulated argument.

Once a logically coherent and well-supported argument has been constructed, the next step is effectively presenting it through concise writing techniques. To achieve this, it is crucial to consider the effectiveness of the paragraph, sentence, and word constructions.

Starting at the paragraph level, effective topic sentences and mini-conclusions are ways to present an argument efficiently.[13] A topic sentence typically appears at the beginning of a paragraph and provides a laconic statement that summarises the content of the paragraph.[14] Analogically, mini-conclusions provide a summary of the key points that are made in the paragraph and tie them together.[15] Including mini-conclusions and topic sentences can break down complex arguments into smaller, more manageable pieces and provide an explicit direction for readers.[16]

On the sentence level, it is necessary to avoid saying many things at once.[17] However, some lawyers try to include too much detail and information in a sentence, as if they are obliged to squeeze an entire idea into it.[18] As a result, sentences become hard to follow and readers may lose interest in the argument.[19] Therefore, it is essential to structure sentences with simplicity.

Besides avoiding wordiness, deciding what to stress out in each sentence is also essential.[20] For this, sentences with emphatic endings are needed.[21] For example, compare the following two sentences:

1. Women should have the right to access safe and legal abortion if they choose to do so.

2. Access to safe and legal abortion is not just a matter of reproductive rights, it is a matter of fundamental human rights.

Although both sentences describe the same argument, the second one is far more effective and helps to draw the reader’s attention to the most crucial aspect of the argument. Highlighting key points of the argument this way makes it easier for the readers to follow it.

After organising and refining the writing at the paragraph and sentence levels, the next step is ensuring smooth transitions. For example, to indicate causation, transitional words and phrases such as “therefore”, “thus”, “as a result”, etc., can be used.  To highlight similarities and differences, one can use “similarly”, “analogously”, “in contrast”, “but”, and so on.[22] These and other transitions that signal a shift to another idea[23] ensure that readers can follow the flow of ideas.


In conclusion, constructing a complex legal argument is a process that requires great attention and involves multiple elements. Writers should first understand the characteristics that make an argument complex. Following this, they may focus on crafting a strong argument while ensuring the content is easily understandable. Finally, an argument should be presented effectively. Considering these suggestions can help legal writers create a powerful, well-organised and persuasive legal argument.

[1]  Richard K. Neumann Jr, Legal Reasoning and Legal Writing, 285 (4th ed. 2001).

[2]  Ronald Munson & Andrew Black, The Elements of Reasoning, 1-2 (6th ed. 2011).

[3] Id., 9.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] David Kelley, The Art of Reasoning, 93-94 (4th ed. 2013).

[7] Eugene Volokh, Writing a Student Article, 48 Journal of Legal Education 247, 261 (1998).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Kelley, supra note 6, 95.

[10] Michael R. Smith, Advanced Legal Writing Theories and Strategies in Persuasive Writing, 87-89 (3rd ed. 2012).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Georgetown University, Tips For Effective Organization, 3. Available at: (last visited Apr. 11, 2023).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English, 20 (1st ed. 2001).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Id., 21.

[20] Id., 32.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Supra note 15, 4.

[23] Ibid.

Author: Sezar Allahverdiyev, Baku State University Law faculty, a freshman.