While clear legal writing is important regardless of the document, it is essential in state and federal appellate cases. Rarely do the parties argue the case before the court. They must rely on their briefs and the record to win.
This humorous example from the Appellate Advocacy Blog shows, among other things, how to write your fact statements clearly and concisely. When judges read briefs, they appreciate the writer who gets to the point and supports the facts with a clear and convincing argument of relevant statutes and case law.
This is why editing your writing is so important. Get your thoughts down in writing. Organize it so that the reader is led through a logical flow of the facts and the argument. In appellate briefs, the format for citations to the record and all other citations format always is always set by court rules.
Go back through your document. Remove all unnecessary words and hyperbole. For example, “in order” can always be deleted. Some repetition is acceptable. Constant repetition is not. The court will “get it.” Good legal writing is also good story telling.
One of the best writing exercises I can recommend is to rewrite something that is poorly written. It can be anything. If you cannot find something, go to the Internal Revenue Code. You should find plenty of fodder there. Follow the rule of short – short sentences and short paragraphs. Delete all unnecessary words and legalese. Sensitize yourself to verbosity.
Now, a word of caution. If you are the only author of the document that will bear your name, you have complete control over how it is written. If, however, you are writing for your boss, here is where you need to use good judgment. You may hate legalese, but your boss has certain archaic phrases that he or she use in every document because it just makes it “sound right.” I would not recommend editing someone else’s writing without permission and a clear understanding that your boss reads and approves all changes you have made.
I hope you enjoy Ms. Williams’ “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” example and find it helpful as a legal writing guide. -CCE
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