Simplify the Issue
Avoid long-winded explanations of legal standards, especially when they are irrelevant to the issues at hand. Most judges and law clerks already know the general legal standards. Focus on identifying the bottom line: What are the legal issue(s)? What exactly do you want the court to do? Why? You must understand the problem to explain it adequately in a motion. Explain it to someone in your family who is not in the legal profession, which will force you to use simpler words, less legalese, and get to the root of the issue.
Distinguish the Negatives, Equate the Positives
After identifying the problem, analyze the pros and cons of your argument: creativity and word choice matter. Every side of an argument has negative and positive points. Do not shy away from the negatives. Instead, minimize their effect throughout the motion and distinguish the negative points from the facts of your case.
This may sound cliché but is absolutely true: Do not play “hide the ball” in a motion. Precisely describe what you want the court to do and keep highlighting it throughout the motion. Using highly informative headings makes it easier for the reader to find the issue they want to address. Remember, people don’t read motions for fun. They use motions to decide an issue.
Word Choice and Sentence Structure
Use strong, assertive words to highlight positives and minimize negative factors. Sprinkle some emotionally charged words throughout a motion where discretion is a factor.
For example, discretion is a significant factor in immigration law. Criminal convictions are negative factors in the exercise of discretion. Rehabilitation is a positive factor. Say a criminal conviction occurred more than 15 years ago, and your client has not been convicted of anything since.
Instead of this:
Mr. X was convicted of XXXX 15 years ago. He has not been convicted of anything since. He has two US citizen children and has worked with the same company for 10 years.
Although Mr. X has a criminal history, rehabilitation has been his primary focus for the last 15 years. He is the caring father of two US citizen children, dependent on his support. Mr. X is also an exemplary employee, having worked with the same company for more than 10 years.
Use Parentheticals Instead of Direct Quotes
This cannot be stressed enough. The use of previous cases is an essential aspect of a motion. However, direct quotes, without explaining why you chose that case to support your motion, are a waste of space. Parenthetical statements add clarity, explaining why the particular case supports the thesis.
The most important part of persuasive writing is to be clear in what you want the judge to do and why. You’re halfway there if you understand the issues and can write them in simple terms.