Top Ten Legal Writing Tips

Top Ten Legal Writing Tips

These are the basics of competent legal writing.

1. Why do I write? Litigators write to ask the court for action. Begin with a question, what do I the court to do? Write the order first, then it’s easy to write the motion and memorandum.

2. Who am I? Do I have a Masters in English from Harvard, or did I sleep through English class in high school. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Write at your level; where ever that is. But, always work to improve.

3. Who is my audience? Legal writing is for the judge. Make the judge’s job easier. Tell the judge what you want, and show the judge how to write the opinion. Be concise, be logical and be organized.

4. What is my subject? Know the facts. Know the law. Know the when to yield on less important issues.

5. Why should I get what I want? Authority. Cite one case that is directly on point. Never cite a case you have not read. Know your case. If there is a case that hurts your position, cite it and distinguish it.

6. Keep it simple. Avoid wordiness. Professor Strunk said, “a sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Avoid: “Comes Now,” “to-wit,” “by and through counsel,” “in the instant case,” and many others.

7. Be candid. Be concise. Be clear. Watch your tone. Always be courteous and respectful. Avoid humor and sarcasm.

8. Learn the rules of good writing, then learn when and how to break them.

9. Spell-check is different than proofreading. The last thing you do before you submit your document – read it. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it.

10. Edit, edit, edit, edit, and edit.

“The harder I work, the luckier I am.” Unknown

“A blank sheet of paper is God’s way of telling us that it is not so easy to be God.” Anonymous

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