Legal Writing Practice of Law

Make It Clear to the Judge

Too many lawyers write in a style not persuasive to a busy judge. We learned this unpersuasive style in college and law school — ­ it’s called the academic style. Academic style is marked by mind-numbing details, bloated sentences, and meandering paragraphs. Exactly what you don’t want when writing for a judge.

When the task is not just to analyze, but to persuade, you need to jettison academic style for a style that meets the needs of busy judges with just minutes to devote to each brief.

Put simply, busy judges prefer to read plain English. This means: Eliminate redundancies, avoid legal jargon, and eliminate negative and passive constructions.

Plain English is a trend in the legal world; it is found in the CACI jury instructions and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s requirement for disclosure documents. Make it a trend in your writing as well.

Plain English has three main components:

  • Brevity. You achieve brevity by deleting what is unnecessary, redundant, or implicit. When you strip from your verbiage all that is unnecessary, redundant, or implicit, what remains to persuade the busy judge is your core message.
  • Simplicity. Simple writing need not be dull. There are many short, colorful words ­to use, e.g., “avalanche” of litigation, the criminal went free because of a “blunder.”
  • Clarity. Clarity is created by a clear train of thought. Your readers need to see how a series of sentences hang together.

Great research and powerful reasoning are important tools, but they are not enough. To persuade a busy judge, you need to present your research and reasoning in plain English.

These tips are from Daniel U. Smith, who teaches CEB’s popular program Smith on Legal Writing, available On Demand. For more useful writing tips from Mr. Smith, check out our blog post 13 Tips to Creating a Clear Train of Thought.
© 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.

6 replies on “Make It Clear to the Judge”

For the record, the same holds true for writing briefs for your mediator. What is also helpful for us, as we come into a case, usually for just one day, is a chronology outlining the chain of events, and clear and supported damages. Brevity, Simplicity and Clarity is a great rule.

Lee Jay Berman
Los Angeles, CA

Nice to have read the post concerning writing style. Great points on brevity too! Best, Darren Chaker

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