Be consistent with terms used, even when your instinct may be to use a synonym to avoid sounding repetitive. In legal writing, the reader is aware that terms often have a precise operational definition. By using a slightly different word to explain the same thing, you risk confusing the reader, who may now think you are referring to something slightly different.
Forget the legal jargon and opt for simple, plain language where appropriate. While precise terms are necessary at times for an attorney to accurately convey the law or an argument, always evaluate your writing to determine when it is necessary to use a precise legal term and when it is not.
It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.
As many lawyers have experienced, it is easier to comply with a higher page limit for a brief than it is with a lower page limit. Legal advocacy and interpretation of the law can lend itself to long-winded, meandering writing. As an advocate, avoid that. Make arguments that get to the point, including detail when necessary. Always evaluate your writing to determine if there is a more succinct way to tell the reader what you want the reader to know.
You’re not allowed to use the sprinkler system to keep your audience awake.
It will not matter how clear and concise your writing is if you fail to engage the reader. Legal writing tackles challenging and sometimes dry subject matter, but there are ways to build your sentences through shifting sentence length and syntax variation to keep your audience engaged as you make your point. Every sentence should not be the same length, nor have the same structure. Some sentences should be long, perhaps stringing together minor points made previously or setting the foundation for more substantial points to be addressed in the sentences to follow. Other sentences should be shorter. Keep your reader invested in your point by making your writing lively.
Own your writing by having an authentic voice. After reading several cases and statutes, it’s easy to be susceptible to the dry artificial tone that characterizes some court opinions. Prevent this by reviewing your writing to see if you can hear yourself in it. If you can’t, reword it.
Aim for Elegance
Like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.
If you can explain complex legal issues in a simple, concise, and engaging way, then you have done a good job. If you can do it with elegance, you’ve done a great job. Striving for elegance makes legal writing a creative endeavor, making the writing process an interesting challenge throughout your career. However, it is important to master good legal writing before focusing on writing an elegant brief. When I’m able to simply, concisely, and engagingly lay out the points in a brief by the filing date, I consider elegance in my writing. For me this includes reading a variety of cases on a particular topic and noting how each court summarizes the issue, paying attention to which words are most easily and deeply understood by me as the reader. I can then make subtle changes to my writing, injecting turns of phrase to more artfully make my point.
Keywords: litigation, solo practitioners, small firms, legal writing