At the (new) legal writer, Raymond Ward offers a "collection of articles on reply briefs" in response to a reader who complained in an email that "I have been unable to find any guidance with regard to developing an effective reply brief."
Ward's post merits a look. And Thanks for the link to Celia Elwell, a paralegal in Oklahoma City.
He wasn't a legal writer, but Raymond Carver had something important to say about expressing complex ideas in a simple manner:
When something feels complex or complicated to you, write it out carefully and thoughtfully, several different times if necessary, until it flows smoothly and expresses exactly what you want it to communicate and nothing else.
Carver's tip appeared in a letter to his daughter. The quote is pulled from a post about Carver at Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes.
Apparently, there used to be some formal editing rule that said you had to write numbers twice, repeating them once in parentheses, like this:
Before the consolidation order, there were more than eight (8) other, separate cases on file.
With the recent amendment of the class definition, the class size increased from three thousand (3,000) to four thousand (4,000).
You still see this number-repeating idea often in legal writing. It's not necessary. The better rule is to spell out numbers one to ten, use numerals for numbers higher than 10, and forget about repeating numbers in parentheses. The revision to the two examples would look like this:
Before the consolidation order, there were more than eight other, separate cases on file.
With the recent amendment of the class definition, the class size increased from 3,000 to 4,000.
Kennerly's post came about like this. First, Kennerly read an article about a judge who wasn't happy with a tone of a lawyer's brief. Next, Kennerly went on PACER and found the offending brief. On his weblog, he highlighted some of the places where the brief's tone was suspect and made the whole thing available by clicking a link.
The offending brief includes a lot of vitriol and sarcasm aimed at the other side: it snidely says the plaintiffs (two legal professors) were motivated to sue by mere "unhappiness," says their claims are hard to understand, accuses them of "feigning injury," says they are wasting the court's time, and calls their action "obviously unmeritorious."
Does it sound like a lot of briefs you've read in your career? At the end of his post, Kennerly gives this advice:
Outrage and scorn are not wholly forbidden in front of a judge or a jury but you have to earn it.
An opening brief filled with sarcasm will perturb a judge doing his or her best to reserve judgment until they've heard both sides just as much as an opening statement filled with indignity will repulse a jury doing their best to be fair and impartial until they've heard all of the evidence.
Kennerly's post stands as a good reminder to all of us who write for judges--judges who are always more interested in the facts and the law than our own belly-aching about the other side.
Here's an example of some bad legal writing from the "Legalese Hall of Shame," originally spotted in a lawyer's letter--
I am herewith returning the stipulation to dismiss in the above entitled matter; the same being duly executed by me.
At the Legalese Hall of Shame, you'll also find translations of the twisted English posted there. Here's the quote above, in translation: "I have signed and
enclosed the stipulation to dismiss the Byrd case."
Even if these sites won't make you a better writer (because, obviously, you already know how to write understandable English), they'll certainly entertain you, while nudging you in the direction of becoming an even better writer.
(Concluding note: I originally saw these links in a post titled "First Arrow" at Raymond Ward's the (new) legal writer. Ward's post is a list of his favorite writing sites. All of Ward's recommendations are worth exploring.)