Common Sense Legal Writing Tips
How does an attorney make a legal brief more persuasive? Lawyers are always searching for the golden nugget that will persuade a judge or jury, but often it does not exist. Instead, an overall strategy that maximizes certain writing talents is optimal. One approach is remembering to practice the ABC’s of legal writing: Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity. Here are some tips for implementing these writing ideals.
Identify and know your audience
Knowing your true audience is key. In the case of any legal brief, the audience, the reader, is the court and not opposing counsel or the parties. One good way to look at it is to consider yourself a reader-centered writer rather than a writer-centered writer. This will significantly aid the court in better comprehending your writing, including the identification of the precise relief requested by the brief and the grounds supporting it. It is always better to use plain English to make a point when possible, rather than resorting to dense and even what may be archaic legalese.
Organize your thoughts
Adequately organizing thoughts into a logical, flowing argument will help the court more easily and readily understand the substance of your words. Arriving at your ultimate point through a logical progression of facts, ideas, and analysis makes it more clear to the reader. No judge or law clerk appreciates sifting through a long, disorganized presentation.
Make your work concise
There is a reason that a legal brief is called a “brief.” A famous judge once told his law clerk to remove every unnecessary paragraph from a legal brief that was being prepared. The judge reviewed it and told the clerk to remove every unnecessary sentence. Finally, after further review, he told the law clerk to remove every unnecessary word. And that is one way to measure whether a legal writing is concise.
Attorneys in their effort to be thorough, often tend to include as much material as they can fit within the brief. However, the analysis is always qualitative rather than quantitative. Tangents, digressions, and other detours will only confuse the reader who is only interested in what the writer must establish to succeed. Fact discussions should be limited to only what is necessary to give context, address the dispositive issues, and provide the necessary evidentiary foundation. The use of specific citations to the evidence, case law, and statutes will help the court avoid any necessity to search and verify important information.
Ensure that there is accuracy throughout your work
Once a reader establishes that the information he or she is reading is inaccurate, the credibility of the author and any other information contained in the brief is substantially compromised. It is important to proofread a legal brief several times. Yes, several times. The consequence may be damaging or even losing your client’s case. Never rely on incomplete citations or exaggerate case holdings to formulate a “general rule” without addressing the exceptions that may apply in your case. Proofread!
Demonstrate that you care about your work product
Clients pay good money to attorneys for legal services that include legal writing. Clients trust their attorneys to do the best job possible. An attorney’s approach to writing a legal brief should reflect this important undertaking and the responsibility related thereto to the extent that the court may see that the work product was completed thoughtfully, intelligently, and passionately. Legal writers must take breaks between drafts to regain perspective, focus, and freshness. The court takes the legal matter at hand seriously and it is incumbent upon attorneys to demonstrate the same.
While these tips may be found in a sixth grade English course, they are good fundamental, albeit common sense, concepts that will provide a good core approach, even to writing in a legal context. However, remembering these simple ideas when a deadline approaches and stress is at a peak may be challenging but beneficial in the long-term.
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