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Advice for creating shorthand references My books: Legal Writing Nerd and Plain Legal Writing In legal documents, we sometimes need to create shorthand references for recurring names. For example, its not unusual for a legal document to begin like this: Plaintiffs Roger T. Howard (hereinafter “Howard”) and Leticia Howard (hereinafter “Leticia” and, together with Howard, the “Plaintiffs” or “Howards”) brought this action against and Southern National Bank (hereinafter “SNB”) and Green Fields Agricultural Company (hereinafter “GFAC”). That’s a cluttered paragraph, but it’s not unusual. Sometimes lawyers are guilty of “painstakingly (and painfully) shortening every label on the landscape. Such a…
The best-selling author Stephen King hates adverbs and advises writers not to use them: The adverb is not your friend. Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on…
Managing averages and maximums My books: Legal Writing Nerd and Plain Legal Writing Legal writing has a bad reputation for long sentences. Why? Maybe reading cases in law school starts us off poorly. After all, the cases in casebooks weren’t chosen because they were beautifully written. Plus, legal writers often face short deadlines and might end up sacrificing some editing. And legal writers address complex matters—matters requiring explanation, qualification, and clarification. But we can do better. First, we can let go of the thought that a concept and everything that qualifies that concept must be in a single sentence: [Lawyers]…
Three recent projects My books: Legal Writing Nerd and Plain Legal Writing When I first learned about persuasive legal writing, the advice was simple: avoid lying, follow the rules, reduce errors. Today, we have science, and many authors are publishing research studies that try to define persuasive legal writing scientifically. I summarize three here. Brady Coleman and Quy Phung assembled a database of U.S. Supreme Court briefs filed from 1970 to 2004 and performed some calculations: they used the Flesch Reading Ease Scale, which assigns a readability score from zero (extremely difficult) to 100 (very easy); they also used the…
Using placement and subordination to create emphasis. My books: Legal Writing Nerd and Plain Legal Writing A criminal trial has ended and you’re at the penalty phase. If you’re Terry Chima’s defense lawyer, which would you rather hear the judge say? Terry Chima, I believe that you are genuinely sorry and sincerely committed to being a productive member of society, but the crime you committed warrants a significant punishment. Terry Chima, the crime you committed warrants a significant punishment, but I believe that you are genuinely sorry and sincerely committed to being a productive member of society.[1] Most readers…
Advice for fonts in legal writing What are the best fonts for legal writing? Legal text appears most often in traditional, serious documents—statutes, contracts, pleadings, and briefs—so let’s narrow our definition of “best” to professional and readable. This post defines a few terms, reports on some research, and offers some recommendations. Serif or sans serif? Fonts come in two broad categories: serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have small extensions at the end of each stroke, called serifs. (Below left.) Examples are Times New Roman, Garamond, and Cambria. Sans serif fonts have no serifs. (Below right.) Examples are Arial, Tahoma,…
Using topic sentences and headings My books: Legal Writing Nerd and Plain Legal Writing Many lawyers write memos, trial and appellate briefs, or briefs in administrative matters, and those documents contain a section called the Statement of Facts. Naturally, a Statement of Facts should be credible, ethical, and persuasive, but it should also flow—guiding the reader through the events in an easy-to-follow, coherent way. To accomplish those goals, legal writers can use two basic yet effective tools: topic sentences and headings. Dates aren’t topics. I’ve seen Statements of Facts in which the first sentences of a series of paragraphs all begin…
Getting started—simply Two previous columns discussed visuals as valuable tools for persuasion in briefs and how brief writers could overcome obstacles to using visuals. This month I offer some practical tips for using visuals and some simple ideas for creating them. Two experienced practitioners-turned-legal-writing professors have written an excellent article full of good advice: “Art”-iculating the Analysis: Systemizing the Decision to Use Visuals as Legal Reasoning, by Steve Johansen and Ruth Anne Robbins.[1] They helpfully divide visuals into three categories: Organizational visuals such as bullet lists, timelines, and tables—even the Table of Contents; interpretive visuals such as flow charts,…
In my survey of practicing lawyers, 30% said they rarely or never use visuals in briefs. Here are the top three reasons for not using visuals: My practice area doesn’t lend itself to visuals. I’ve never heard a judge recommend visuals. Creating visuals is time-consuming and difficult. Let’s take these one at a time. (1) If your practice doesn’t lend itself to visuals, then you’re not avoiding them because they don’t work at all; you’re avoiding them because they don’t work for the cases and issues you handle. Declining to use visuals is therefore an exercise of editorial judgment. That’s…
Visuals can be valuable tools for persuasion in briefs. Legal writers should use visuals as persuasive tools in their documents, and it’s already happening: In my survey of 133 lawyers, 70% said they frequently or sometimes use visuals in briefs. The survey targeted writers of persuasive documents at an initial-dispute stage: trials, administrative hearings, arbitrations, and others. This article displays a simple pie chart showing the answers to survey question 2: “In writing briefs or other persuasive documents, do you ever use visuals: graphics, images, charts, tables, illustrations, and so on? In part one of this series, I’ll discuss the…