The New Yorker has a worthwhile blog post, "The Power of Names," with fascinating data about linguistic associations, including this:
What ancient mapmakers did unwittingly for north and south, lawyers do intentionally when they describe accident scenes. The defense might call a car accident “contact”; the plaintiff might say one car “smashed” the other. These labels really matter, as Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer showed in a classic experiment. After a group of students watched the same series of traffic accidents, they were asked how fast the cars were going when the accident occurred. When the cars were described as having “contacted” one another, the students estimated their speed to be thirty-two miles an hour, whereas another group estimated that the cars were travelling at forty miles an hour when they were described as having “smashed” one another. In a second experiment, fourteen per cent of participants incorrectly remembered seeing shattered glass when told that the cars “hit” one another, whereas thirty-two per cent of participants in a second sample made the same error when told the cars “smashed” into one another. If a single word can change how people remember an event they witnessed only minutes earlier, there isn’t much hope for eyewitnesses who recall, often months or years later, events experienced under stressful, distracted conditions.
But good lawyers also know that word choices that work wonderfully well in the story-telling format of jury trials work may be a mistake in a brief, where an obvious attempt to influence the reader with emotional content or exaggeration will backfire. Simple but true: know your audience.