Three is a powerful number found throughout our lives. For Christians it’s found in the Holy Trinity. Children read about “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the “Three Little Pigs,” and the “Three Blind Mice.” In school, we learn our “A,B,C’s.” Movies have featured the “Three Musketeers” and the “Three Stooges.” In the movie poster shown below, the word “Three” is even used not once, but three times. Other movies absent an explicit reference to the word “three” nonetheless use the power of three in the title, such as “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”

Three Pests in a Mess

Commands are also given in threes, such as “On your mark. Get set. Go!” and “Ready. Aim. Fire!” The genie from the bottle will give you not just one but “three wishes.”

Politicians have long used the power of three in speeches. Julius Ceaser reportedly stated: “Veni, Vidi, Veci.” (“I came, I saw, I conquered.”). During World War II, Sir Winston Churchill told his citizens that “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”)

Advertisers use the power of three in many ways. For example, Rice Krispies ads feature “snap, crackle, and pop.” Dr. Pepper once advertised that you should drink one of its sodas at 10:00, 2:00, and 4:00. Both General Motors (Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet) and Gap, Inc. (Banana Republic, The Gap, Old Navy) feature three brands at differing price points. The Marines seek recruits with the slogan, “the few, the proud, the Marines” and Nike tells us to “just do it.”

As politicians and advertisers know, the power of three can be used to persuade because, as studies show, the human mind quickly recalls no more than three things from a list. When Churchill was chosen as the English Prime Minister he stated: “I can promise you Blood, Sweat, Toil and Tears,” but what is remembered by people to this day is that he promised his “blood, sweat, and tears.”  Three is indeed a powerful number.

In making legal argument, the power of three can be harnessed in several ways. One way is to make sure you make three arguments or reasons for the ruling you wish the court to make. Be sure to include a summary listing of those arguments in your introduction and conclusion. A snappy sentence including all three reasons will be especially memorable.

Another way is to advance each of the three arguments using three points that in turn lead to the conclusion you want.  For example, A leads to B, leads to C, which then requires the result you seek. The marketing book, ” Covert Persuasion” by Kevin Hogan and James Speakman, offers the following advice.

The goal is to include one item in your triad that is very obviously true. Then, your target’s mind will expand it’s acceptance of the other two ideas in your triad, thinking that if one thing is true, the other two are likely to be true as well.

Psychologists generally agree that we have the ability to sort through the meanings of up to three presuppositions in a conversation; however, if we include nore than three it moves beyond the brains search capabilities. Since the brain is a pattern-seeking, efficient operator, it will quickly try to determine if one is true, then, in most cases, conclude that all are true. That’s how you get compliance.

While advertisers aren’t held to the same high level of integrity as lawyers arguing to a court, the same technique of using a three-part argument that leads to the conclusion you seek can be used in legal briefing. When the foundation of that argument is well-supported, the latter two parts need not be to the same degree in order for the argument to be considered powerful by the reader. When writing your next brief, consider using the “power of three” to your advantage.
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