Writing Tips

Legal Writing

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How to Confound Judges, Clients, and Colleagues

Here's Why Numbers Confuse Judges and Clients

Pepper your briefs, letters, emails, and memoranda with extraneous names, dates, and numbers.

Because names, dates, and numbers assume an aura of importance, your readers try to keep track of them, even if they’re not important. Your readers don’t know. And trying to keep track of them all prevents your readers from absorbing what is important.

Instead of writing . . .

“On January 21, 2012, Ortega violated . . . . As required under company policy, he was provisionally discharged on January 26, 2012. On January 30, 2012, after a provisional discharge meeting, Ortega’s employment was formally terminated. On February 2, 2012, the Union filed a grievance . . . .”

. . . write something like:

“On January 21, 2012, Ortega violated . . . . As required under company policy, he was provisionally discharged, and, after a provisional discharge meeting, formally terminated at the end of January. Three days later, the Union filed a grievance . . . .”

By doing it this way, you give your judge a time reference and let her know that the process continued fairly and expeditiously, but you don't confuse her with insignificant dates.

 

In the following example, note that the lawyer mentions “Yeoman Construction Company” only one time in his brief – in this sentence. But his readers will still try to memorize Yeoman and the date, because they don’t know till they get to the end of the brief that Yeoman and the date are not important:

On February 17, 2011, Yeoman Construction Company (“Yeoman”) contracted with the Virginia Housing Authority to build 171 units of low-income housing.

The rewrite below allows the judge to focus on an important name and an important number: the “Virginia Housing Authority” and “171”:

In early 2011, the previous builder contracted with the Virginia Housing Authority to build 171 units of low-income housing.

Whether you’re writing a brief, a memorandum, an email, or a letter to a client, never include a name, a date, or a number, unless it’s important.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

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WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.