In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, Joleena Louis discusses persuasive writing in part one of a two-part piece on improving legal writing skills.
One of my resolutions for 2016 is to improve my legal writing.
As a solo, I don’t really have anyone else to proofread my writing, and I often have to prepare and file documents in a very short time frame. This lack of help leads to a lot of inconsistency so I don’t always feel like I’m producing my best work.
I’m taking a two pronged approach to correcting this problem: 1) learning to write more persuasively and 2) creating an editing checklist.
This week we will focus on the first step: writing more persuasively. I asked my solo friends to send me their best brief writing tips or sample briefs to help me in this task.
Here are four of my favorite tips:
1. Use Headings to Advance Your Argument
I know how useful using headings can be.
Admittedly, I’ve neglected to use headings in my legal writing in the past when I was in a rush. It’s a simple way to advance your argument and give a clear idea of your position on a given topic.
For example, using a vague heading like “Decision Making” doesn’t get your point across to a reader who might be skimming your document. Instead, try to be more specific, such as “It Is In The Best Interest Of The Child For The Petitioner To Make Decisions Regarding Education.” Even if the reader is skimming, they can quickly determine your position.
2. Address All Arguments Made By Adversary
This is something that I did not always do, especially if it was a point I conceded on. Now I’ve realized that my credibility can be increased by admitting when my adversary is right about something.
Also, you should always address an argument even when it seems far fetched. Otherwise, your silence could be construed as a concession.
3. Use an Objective Tone
Being objective is something I struggle with because family law arguments can become emotional. If your adversary is aggressive you feel pressure to reply in the same manner.
Angry clients want to see the name calling; however, having a factual and objective tone comes across as more credible.
As the court attorney for one Brooklyn matrimonial judge once told me: “Name calling does not help your case. We just skip over it.”
4. Keep it Simple
The judge is not going to read every word of your 50-page motion, and will likely be annoyed by it. Keeping your documents concise is one of the biggest ways you can improve your legal writing.
Excessive legalese and flowery language will not add to your argument. They want to see a well-thought-out argument that is clear and to the point.
One piece of advice that has always stuck with me is: “You have to work with the facts that you have.” While you can’t change your facts, you can present them in a more persuasive manner by using these tips.