Writing “Like a Lawyer” Often Is the Problem
If we analyze the writing of lawyers considered by colleagues to be the finest legal writers in a firm or legal community, the one trait they all will share is that they do not “write like a lawyer.” They write like warm, logical, compassionate, intelligent, fair-minded humans. And judges respond favorably. They have a big problem to solve, they need help, and they want communication, not posturing and legal clichés.
When we remove the Latin, lead-ins like Accordingly and Moreover, inflammatory words like outrageous and disingenuous, self-serving conclusory words like obviously and clearly, the standard pursuant to, heretofore, and hereinafter, the dull puffed-up nominalizations, plus all words that add no meaning to our sentences, our writing automatically sounds more confident and is more helpful to the judge. Editing software like WordRake can help.
Submit a Shorter Brief
Submitting a brief shorter than what the court will allow signals the judge we have a strong case and we know it well. It is the surest way to create a good impression with a judge. Like the rest of us, most judges will turn immediately to the last page of anything they have to read to see how long it is. If a page limit is 20, over 95% of briefs will run 19 ¾ pages. If a judge sees 16 or 17 on that last page—based on her experience of having read thousands of briefs—she automatically will assume this brief will be better than most. So she turns back to p. 1 with a good feeling about the lawyer who wrote it even though she has yet to read one word. We recommend submitting a brief at about 80% of what the court is willing to allow.
With judges short on time and thin on patience, we should strive to make their job easier by becoming the “Fair Advocate.” As a “Fair Advocate,” we send the right signals to judges by remembering they’re human, wording the section titles of our brief transparently, treating both sides equally, removing hyperbole and digs, ignoring the other side’s hyperbole and digs, and submitting briefs shorter than what the courts would allow.
Editing software like WordRake can help us meet page and word limits by removing the words we don’t need to make our points.
About the Author
Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for the American Bar Association, the Social Security Administration, PG&E, Kraft, Microsoft, and law firms like Jones Day, Sidley, and WilmerHale. His critically-acclaimed Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea hit #7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.