What is good legal writing?
I want you to think about this question … hard and long!
What is your goal?
- Impress the judge?
- Confuse the opponent?
- Or, win the case?
Everything we do in life has in one sense or another a particular goal. Some things we do are automatic, like breathing, yet there is always a goal. In business, the goal is to provide a benefit to others. In sports, the goal is to perform to the highest of our athletic ability. In law, the goal is to make a winning record in writing!
Many lawyers and most pro se litigants miss this point … they get sidetracked with unimportant distractions!
Every word spoken in a courtroom or written on paper filed with the clerk or served on the other side must aim toward this specific goal.
All words that aren’t aimed at making a winning record must go!
Since 1997 when Jurisdictionary began, people have sent documents for review. In all but a few the punch, power, and persuasive effect could be improved by eliminating 90% of the words and by keeping only those aimed at making a winning record.
Most of what came for review read more like the writer was trying to tell a story, rather than trying to make a winning court record of relevant facts and controlling law!
Any fact that’s not “relevant” and any law that’s not “controlling” should be eliminated.
I rebuilt a few car engines in my youth. I removed bolts, nuts, gaskets, and pins. I placed the removed parts on a sheet of cardboard on the floor of my garage. All was arranged neatlyin order. When the time came to put the engine back together, every part had a place, and that’s where I put each part … in its place!
A place for every part. Every part in its place.
I didn’t add any parts! I didn’t leave any parts out!
That’s good legal writing!
Every word has a purpose … to make your winning record.
More years ago than I like to remember, I worked as a reporter for the Tampa Times newspaper. My city editor was ruthless with my writing. I learned from him. Since being admitted to the bar in 1986, I’ve applied what he taught me. “Say what needs to be said then stop!”
What was true for newspaper writing is doubly true for legal writing.
Say what needs to be said and stop!
Write like you were “speaking” to an 8th grader. You aren’t Jimmy Buffet. You don’t need a “novelist’s eye” or a “bartender’s ear”. You aren’t telling a story! You’re assembling essential parts of a powerful engine.
That’s what good legal writing does! Each part has a specific purpose.
What I teach will empower your legal paperwork and give you the competitive edge you need to win!