It often surprises new attorneys that lawyers frequently do not write research memos or legal briefs on their own but instead do so in teams. This makes it critical that young lawyers learn how to write effectively with others.
So, how does writing with others differ from writing on your own? When writing collaboratively, a team must carve up responsibilities and allocate them efficiently, resolving conflicts of substance and style as they arise. If writers contend with the word, then teammates contend with each other. To write effectively in teams, you’ll need to contend with both.
Below, we walk you through the three stages of legal-writing collaboration—planning, drafting, and revision—to show you how.
The first step in any team project is to identify the scope of the assignment. Only then can you allocate responsibilities among the team members. Imagine, for instance, that your supervisor asks you and another associate to help draft a summary-judgment motion.
First, ask what it will take to finish a draft for your supervisor. Has she laid out the material facts for you already, or will you need to dig through the record to find them? Are there earlier filings to consult or borrow from? Do you already know what arguments to make, or will you need to research the law and develop them independently? The goal is not to identify everything that must be done but rather to anticipate what the work might entail—whether, for instance, you should expect follow-up research or a deep dive into the case file.
Next, meet with your team to allocate responsibilities among its members. Assign responsibilities according to each team member’s experience, expertise, strengths, and weaknesses. If your colleague is a deft storyteller, let her write the facts; if you know the law better, take charge of the argument.
Note that team projects are rarely democratic; the most senior attorney typically holds final authority over the finished product. Less often, authority is shared among team members, as when lawyers with complementary expertise work together on a high-stakes appellate brief or firm partners co-write an article. But even if you are a junior member, ensure that everyone agrees on the project’s allocation of responsibilities and shares a common vision for the final product.
Sometimes, busy supervisors offer little guidance, and you may not know how to handle aspects of your assignment. Rather than guess, clarify your concerns by email or in person. If you’re still mystified, ask for samples from similar projects to guide you.