GREAT WRITING: Legal writing is a conversation. All briefs talk. But great briefs also listen.

 

The written word lays the groundwork for any courtroom victory. So every Fisch Sigler lawyer is a student of great writing. Here, our team members share some of their favorite insights.

 
 
Finish strong
by Lisa Phillips
 

T

he best stories have great endings. And briefs are no different. That’s why it’s a shame that so many submissions end with a one-sentence conclusion asking the court to act for "the foregoing reasons." Instead, I favor concluding with a meaningful ending — one that capsulizes the specific reasons for why the court should do what I’m asking. I urge others to do the same, and take advantage of the opportunity to finish strong.
 
Meet Lisa

 
 
Skip the long wind-up
by Bill Sigler
 

D

on’t bury the lede. As a former journalist and current lawyer, I can tell you that this tenet applies equally to legal writing. Judges and clerks deal with dozens of cases and multitudes of submissions each day. So when your brief flashes before their eyes, you better make sure you tell them why you should win, and quickly. If you do so, you’ll distinguish your brief as among the rarified few that doesn’t begin with the all-too-typical unnecessary background, repetitive introductions, and other throat-clearing.
 
Meet Bill

 
 
Be Brief
by Erik Moses
 

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hortly after becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill dictated instructions to his cabinet on how to improve their writing. And what was the advice that he deemed so critical to impart, with the Second World War raging? Write as briefly and to the point as possible. His famous memorandum, aptly titled "Brevity," concluded that with this approach, "the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking." Applying this philosophy to each brief, motion, and letter leads to the same outcome.
 
Meet Erik

 
 
 
Self-edit like a pro
by Adam Allgood
 

E

rnest Hemingway rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Why? He was focused on "getting the words right," as he explained. To make your legal writing great, you need to approach it with this same passion for excellence and rolled-up sleeves work ethic. That means revising your draft again and again until it’s just right. So before you submit a brief, letter, or report, be your own best self-editor.
 
Meet Adam

 
 
Delete the little word that causes big bloat
by Ken Fung
 

I

t’s hard to believe that a simple, two-letter word like "of" can bloat your writing. But it’s true. For instance, you may see a brief refer to "the Chief Engineer of the Mobile Division of the Defendant." But I can communicate the same information in four fewer words: "the Defendant’s Mobile Division’s Chief Engineer." Bloat is an enemy of interesting story telling. Editing out "of" and other unnecessary prepositions is a useful tool for polishing your writing into its most interesting and precise form.
 
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Deploy active verbs
by Jeff Saltman
 

E

very story needs not only characters, but also action. Verbs provide that action. They make the story go. "To be" verbs, though, lack action; they feel almost inert. Thus, treat is, am, was, were, will be, have been, and so on as a last resort. Try identifying each "to be" verb in your draft, and replace it with a stronger verb. The English language offers an almost never-ending supply of such verbs. So use them, and swap inaction for action.
 
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start with "and" & "but"
by Matt Benner
 

A

t some point in our lives, we were told that you can’t start a sentence with "and" or "but." Well, whoever told us that was wrong. You should begin anywhere from one fifth to one third of your sentences with these short, snappy connectors, along with others such as "so" and "hence." These handy words allow you to better link each sentence to the directly preceding and subsequent sentences, and thus help you lay a smooth path for the reader to follow.
 
Meet Matt

 
 
Drop the Heavy Connectors
by Nick Garver
 

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otwithstanding the fact that, inasmuch as, and in contradistinction. These aren’t phrases you’d expect to read in the newspaper or hear on "All Things Considered." But far too often, these types of long, heavy, and difficult transitional words and phrases dominate legal writing. So while strong persuasive writing requires helpful transitions, you can better serve your reader by casting these heavy connectors aside in favor of lighter words and phrases that convey the same meaning. So, "notwithstanding the fact that" becomes "although," "inasmuch as" becomes "since," and "in contradistinction" becomes "instead of."
 
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Place Bibliographical Data Where It Belongs
by Adam Gerchick
 

T

he age-old convention for briefs is that case citation numbers and reporter information go in the body test, right alongside your best arguments. Or even worse, right in the middle of your best arguments. There must be a good reason for continuing this cluttering tradition, right? Turns out, there’s not. It’s a relic of the manual typewriter. With that era long gone, and so much law now available to support your great points, put that bibliographical data in the footnotes. This offers your reader a far smoother read, with the supporting law available, but not in the way.
 
Meet Adam

 
 
Use the "However Sandwich"
by Lisa Phillips
 

W

hen I want to use the next sentence to contradict the thought in my prior sentence, I don’t start with "however." That connector is a strong one — so strong that it can be jarring for the reader. Instead, I sandwich "however" within sentences and use the smoother "but" transition when I want to begin a sentence by refuting the last sentence. So, for example: "Patent actions at the ITC find their basis in 35 U.S.C. § 1337. Practitioners, however, refer to these more simply as 337 Investigations." This sandwiching technique uses all the flavor of the tasty bit in the middle.
 
Meet Lisa

 
 
avoid legalese
by Nick Garver
 

"C

OMES NOW Vandelay Industries, Inc., Plaintiff in the above-captioned matter ("Plaintiff"), and submits this opposition to the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Penske Corporation ("Defendant") …" Many briefs begin with a jumble of "legalese" like this one. But resorting to such complex, stilted jargon runs counter to the results of countless judicial surveys. And I know that I didn’t appreciate picking up a brief that started this way when I was in chambers. So listen to your audience, and eliminate any words or phrases that sound like jargon. This will lend your writing a more plain, direct, and conversational style.
 
Meet Nick

 
 
use one space after a period
by Joe Edell
 

T

he manual typewriter ushered in an entirely new way of business over a century ago. And with it came new products like inked ribbons and Liquid Paper, and new ideas like using two spaces after a period. The typewriter has since vanished from desktops, and inked ribbons and Liquid Paper disappeared during the Reagan Administration. But two spaces lived on, in large measure out of habit in the transition to word processing. Habit is no reason to maintain this relic of 100-year-old technology. One space is simpler, cleaner, and shorter, which, as every judge will tell you, is always better.
 
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Axe "gratuitous" quotations
by Kate Ryland
 

G

reat legal writing avoids even the risk of ambiguity. And actual quotations of law and evidence help reduce ambiguity. But during my time in chambers, I read plenty of briefs that invited ambiguity through a popular technique: using quotation marks for non-quotations, such as in describing the other side’s arguments. Was the author trying to express sarcasm? Importance? Disbelief? Informality? All of these? None of these? Serve your reader by chopping down the mixed signals that gratuitous quotations can produce. Instead, use words that specifically express your ideas and supporting data.
 
Meet Kate

 
 
remove substantive footnotes
by Matt Benner
 

Y

ou see it in survey-after-survey of judges. I didn’t enjoy them during my time as a judicial law clerk. And you’re starting to see some standing orders specifically mention them. What is this scourge, you say? Substantive footnotes. Judges dislike them, and it’s understandable. They’re distracting, or, even worse, an attempt to circumvent page limitations — neither of which ingratiates a brief to its primary audience. If an argument is important enough to express in your brief, then put it in the body. If it’s not, then remove it altogether.
 
Meet Matt

 
 
Cancel "clearly" and "obviously"
by Ken Fung
 

A

s a mathematician, I know that showing my work is the optimal way to prove that I’m right. The same holds true for brief writing. Bullying the reader into reaching a conclusion by using words like "clearly" and "obviously" doesn’t persuade. Instead, show your work, and let your reader draw their own conclusion that your point is clear and obvious. So leave "clearly," "obviously," and their "ly"-word brethren behind in favor of sharing the law and evidence proving you’re right
 
Meet Ken

 
 
 
Learn from history
by Bill Sigler
 

T

he Declaration of Independence is perhaps western civilization’s most significant document. But one of its best features is often overlooked: simplicity. The Declaration avoids jargon and uses less-common words only out of necessity to communicate specific points. So this document’s power lies not just in its ideas, but in its accessibility — it connects and teaches. Great legal writing follows this wonderful example, rejecting jargon and resorting to more-complex language only where absolutely necessary. Anything less than this distracts at best, and signals a deliberate attempt to obfuscate at worst. We can hold this truth to be self-evident, then: not all words are created equal, so use the right ones for the job.
 
Meet Bill

 
 
Use concrete data
by Adam Allgood
 

A

s an author of persuasive writing, your goal is to make it easy for your audience to agree with you. To do that, remember that your audience wants to, and indeed likes to, learn. And readers principally learn through absorbing facts. Therefore, the more precise data that you present in support of your arguments, the better. The concrete, objective data always beats the abstract.
 
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take the high road
by Alan Fisch
 

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itigation is a race for credibility. Generation after generation of great trial lawyers have passed down this time-honored maxim. And one sure way to lose credibility is by resorting to bombast and personal attacks. Such statements demean the author, not the target. And judges repeatedly express their fatigue with this type of writing, and for good reason — it’s distracting and unhelpful in determining how to apply the law to the facts. Leave the bombast and personal attacks out, keep to the high road — no one has ever gotten lost on it.
 
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