August 01, 2016 article

Four Principles to Help Guide Your Legal Writing

By Jillian Singer

The term “trial attorney” can appear misleading because most cases settle before trial and many issues are disposed of through pretrial motions. This makes legal writing extremely important. In my transition from public service to civil litigation at Balestriere Fariello, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit my writing skills and understand where I need to improve and how to improve. Refining and improving legal writing never stops for any attorney, but my experience has taught me that it should be guided by these four principles: Be clear, be concise, be engaging, and aim for elegance. 

Be Clear

Speech belongs half to the speaker, half to the listener. 
―Michel de Montaigne

For an advocate writing a brief or motion to persuade a judge to decide in the client’s favor, little is more important than clarity. To that end, it is important that your words make sense not just to you but also to your reader. In practice, grammar, punctuation, and word usage are essential so you can write what you mean and mean what you write. Constantly evaluate your writing to make sure it’s clear. I find it helpful to reread drafts after I’ve finished working on them for the day, with fresh eyes. I often catch the most typos and realize which points need further development while sitting on the subway on my way to and from work. 

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