How to Speak as Well as David Boies

by Marsha Hunter

David Boies spoke outside of the United States Supreme Court after the decisions on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. He is, of course, one of America’s most prominent trial lawyers, and a remarkably well-spoken one. It was fascinating to hear him shape his thoughts about the decision, without notes, and with only two very small fluency errors. It was so interesting, in fact, that I transcribed it and crunched some numbers for you.

Boies spoke for 5 minutes and 25 seconds, using 688 words clustered into 144 distinct phrases. The average number of words he used per phrase was 4.7. He spoke at a rate of 123.6 words per minute.

The interesting statistic here is that he parsed his language into 144 phrases! Frankly, I was surprised. I’m a big fan of speaking in phrases, but I did not think that 688 words would break down so beautifully into so many phrases—I would have guessed there were fewer. But listen as he makes it easy for his listeners to hear and process every single word. There is barely a wasted syllable, except when he repeats one two-word phrase and re-pronounces one word. (This is an average number of fluency errors for articulate speakers.)

His phrases are all about four to five words long. Many are two or three, and a few are just one. His longest phrase is sixteen words, and include words that trip easily off his tongue:

“that when that case finally does come to the United States Supreme Court on the merits”

His delivery is completely clear, with crisp consonants, elongated vowels, and sentences that end with emphatic words. He includes the themes from the case, provides an overview of the strategy he and Ted Olson used, and manages to weave both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence into his message.

Boies gives a perfect demonstration of how to be well-spoken. If you want to be articulate, speak in phrases.

Listen to his comments while following the transcript below.



1 This is a great day for America.

2 Ten years ago

3 today

4 the United States Supreme Court

5 in Lawrence against Texas

6 took the first important step

7 to guarantee that all Americans

8 regardless of sexual orientation

9 are equal citizens under the law.

10 Today

11 the United States Supreme Court

12 in two

13 important decisions

14 brings us

15 that much closer

16 to true equality.

17 In the decision

18 striking as unconstitutional

19 in the so-called DOMA or Defense of Marriage case

20 the United States Supreme Court

21 held that there was no purpose

22 for depriving

23 gay and lesbian couples

24 of the right to marry the person they love.

25 There was no legitimate

26 justification

27 for that.

28 As Justice Scalia noted,

29 that holding, that principle,

30 guarantees

31 the right of every individual

32 in every state

33 to marriage equality.

34 In the California case

35 the Supreme Court held

36 that the proponents of Proposition 8

37 did not have standing.

38 What that means

39 is that in that case

40 the Supreme Court could not reach the merits.

41 But everything that the Supreme Court said

42 in the Defense of Marriage opinion

43 where they did reach the merits

44 demonstrates

45 that when that case finally does come to the United States Supreme Court on the merits

46 marriage equality

47 will be the law throughout this land.

48 Our plaintiffs now

49 get to go back

50 to California

51 and together with every other citizen of California,

52 marry the person they love.

53 And the next step

54 is to translate

55 the promise

56 that was in Lawrence

57 and that was reaformed—reaffirmed today

58 in the DOMA case

59 that every citizen

60 in every state

61 has the right to marry the person that they love.

62 The Supreme Court’s decision on standing

63 is important for another reason.

64 When we started out in this case

65 we said we were going to prove three things.

66 We were going to prove that marriage was a fundamental right,

67 and the other side accepted that.

68 We said second we were going to prove

69 that depriving

70 gay and lesbian citizens of the right to marry the person they love

71 seriously harmed them

72 and seriously harmed the children that they were raising.

73 And

74 even the opponents

75 agreed with that.

76 And third

77 we said

78 we were going to prove

79 that allowing

80 everyone to marry the person that they loved,

81 regardless of sexual orientation

82 did not, could not

83 harm anyone.

84 And not only

85 did the proponents on cross-examination

86 have to accept that

87 but today the United States Supreme Court

88 said as much

89 because they said the proponents

90 have no concrete injury.

91 They cannot point

92 to anything that harms them

93 because

94 these two loving couples

95 and couples like them throughout California

96 are now going to be

97 able to get married.

98 And so this is a

99 this is a wonderful day

100 for our plaintiffs,

101 it’s a wonderful day

102 for

103 everyone around this country and in California in particular

104 who wants to be able to marry

105 the person they love.

106 But its a wonderful day for America

107 because we have now taken this country

108 another important step

109 towards guaranteeing

110 the promise that is in our Constitution

111 in our Declaration of Independence

112 that all people are created equal

113 and all people have the inalienable right

114 to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

115 So this is a great day,

116 we thank the Supreme Court,

117 we thank all of you

118 and perhaps most important

119 we thank all of the people

120 who devoted so much

121 to this battle

122 over so many decades.

123 People who did it at a time

124 when it was not as easy as it was

125 for Ted Olson and myself

126 to go into court.

127 The only thing I regret today

128 is that my friend and colleague Ted Olson can’t be here.

129 He has been a leader in this battle

130 for the last four years.

131 He is unfortunately today

132 in another court

133 in another part of the country

134 arguing another case.

135 But his spirit is here

136 and he will be with me tonight

137 and we will celebrate

138 because this is a victory

139 not just for us,

140 not just for the Plaintiffs,

141 not even just for the people who worked for this

142 so many decades,

143 but for all Americans.

144 Thank you.