A Brief Browse on Briefs: Writing Tips from a Judge (part 2)

Last week, in A Brief Browse on Briefs: Writing Tips from a Judge (part 1), we gave the first of 5 of 15 writing tips from Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert of the Second District Court of Appeal, Division 6. Here comes — you guessed it — 5 more writing tips gleaned from the judge’s years of experience and reading so many briefs.

1. Do not use nouns for verbs unless you plan to work for the Pentagon. Radio traffic announcers tell us we “transition” from one freeway to the other; software people “input” or “access” information. Corporate executives tell their managers to “dialogue” with one another. We, at least, will never “prioritize” our options.

2. Keep in mind that the brief is more than a collection of examples of good grammar and syntax. It is an essay that should make sense and be logically sound. Its sentences and paragraphs should support one another. It should be pithy, but not every sentence should be short and declarative. Some will be longer and more complex, but all should be clear and easy to understand. In this way the brief will not be rigid like the third little pig’s house of bricks, but open and flexible, like a geodesic dome.

3. A verb must agree with its subject in number. Use singular verbs with singular subjects, and plural verbs with plural subjects. “She works.” “They work.” Problems sometimes develop when words are placed between the subject and the verb. “The behavior of those criminals who are raping and pillaging is disgusting” “One of the lessons the judge learned is to be compassionate.” “Each of the resumes has some merit.” “He is one of those attorneys who write (not writes) unintelligible briefs.”

4. Use parallel construction: Neither/nor, either/or, not only/but (also), both/and, rather/than. Sentence elements joined by a coordinating conjunction must be parallel. “We should be concerned with good writing and with clear thinking.” Gerunds should be compared with gerunds to achieve a parallel construction: “I like playing more than working.”

5. After writing the masterpiece, put it away for a day or two. Then come back to it. Then revise it. Then put it away. Then revise it again. At this point you will realize that a good brief is not written, but only rewritten. If you are truly critical of your own writing, there is a good chance you will know whether it is honest and has integrity.

Major takaway: Proofread everything and keep an eye on the fundamentals of spelling and grammar. And stay tuned next week for 5 more writing tips from the judge.

CEB’s books offer helpful advice on drafting all types of court briefs, including complaints and answers (see Civil Procedure Before Trial) and appellate briefs (see Civil Appellate Practice). For an entertaining and informative program, check out Daniel U. Smith’s seminar on persuasive legal writing, available On Demand.  You might also go to my earlier blog posts on creative writing techniques for your legal briefs.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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