A Practice Perspective on Effective Legal Writing: Get to the Point, think a “Hemingway-like approach”

A recent article from the Chicago Lawyer Magazine highlights the value of legal writing in law practice and the changing needs in law practice from trial-oriented to disposition-oriented. The article discusses the growing need for skilled legal writers as more and more cases are settled by way of written products (i.e., motions and briefs), rather than in court lawyering (i.e., oral arguments or jury trials).

Everyone in practice knows that more cases settle than go to trial. More and more, these settlements are based on the strength of motions (i.e., effective legal writing). Because the high costs of litigation disincentives going all the way to jury trial, effective legal writing is more critical than ever.

In appellate practice, the appellate courts rely more on well written briefs (the parties’ written appeals to the courts for you non-lawyers out there) to decide the case than the parties’ oral arguments. In fact, more appellate courts are moving towards deciding cases WITHOUT oral argument and ONLY on the written briefs.

In this article, judges recommend that attorneys summarize their case right away and make sure the summary includes the most important points. Judges want a well-organized written product that presents the controlling authority and applies it to the factual situation concisely without inflamatory language or derrogatory comments about the opposing party. The judges even discussed the importance of writing in the active, rather than the passive, voice to clearly communicate.

Perk Up Your Pens! Podcasts about Legal Writing

I stumbled upon the Perk Up Your Pens series on legal writing earlier in the year and wish I had found it so much earlier.  Perk Up Your Pens is a fantastic series of legal writing podcasts by Rachel H. Smith and Shaina Feinberg and funded by an ALWD Teaching Grant.

These podcasts are entertaining and informative. While more geared for students in law school, these podcasts would be great tools for practicing attorneys to brush up on legal writing skills.  Each podcast focuses on a specific legal writing skill – writing like a lawyer, thesis and topic sentences, analogizing & distinguishing, proofreading, etc.  As Perks Up Your Pens tells you, “Happy IRACing!”

Legal Writing According to SCOTUS: Keep It Short & Simple and Skip the Legalese

A recent story on NPR features insights on writing from the experts – the Justices of the United States Supreme Court.  In 2007, Bryan Garner interviewed each Justice about legal writing and advocacy.  Videos of the interviews can be seen here. Bryan Garner is a prominent legal writing scholar and author of The Redbook, A Dictionary of Legal Usage, and The Elements of Legal Style, as well as many others.

A link to a New York Times article based on the same series of interviews can be found here.