Monday Practice Tip- Fifty-Cent Words are Worthless!

Hello all, hope everyone had a great weekend.  Today’s practice tip relates to legal writing.  To be clear, legal writing cannot be completely taught, period, much less taugh in one blog entry.  It takes a combination of tutelage and practice to become an effective writer.  Today I am just touching upon a single component of legal writing.

When we start out in law school, many legal concepts are taught by examining influential legal opinions, some that go as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries, when the “Queen’s English” was en vogue, particularly in legal writing.  Opinions were filled with 4-syllable, fifty-cent words.  It would take me an hour to read a six page case.  I hated it. 

I came to learn as a  young associate that I was not “weird” for disliking this brand of dated rhetoric.  Partners do not like to read it and, more importantly, judges do not care to either.  Recall an earlier pratice tip when we instructed you to approach motion calendar by putting yourself in the judge’s shoes?  He or she has an hour to hear up to 40 motions in 40 different cases.  We taught you to keep your argument short and to the point.

Legal writing is no different.  Judges are just as human back in their chambers reviewing a motion as they are presiding over the chaos that is motion calendar.  In fact, motion calendar is but a microcosm of a trial judge’s workload.  A judge typically has over 1,000 active cases in his or her stable at any given time.  Times for special set hearing are often not available for 4-6 months.  Think about that.  Your judge may not have 15 minutes available for your motion for 6 months! 

The point is, you want to make your writing consistent with your oral advocacy.  Of course, nail the law and cite your cases.  BUT, avoid the dated throat-clearing words or phrases like “therewith,” “due to the fact that,” “notwithstanding,” etc.  Make your writing crisp, easy to understand, rather than filling it with fancy words that make your reader stop and rub their head mid-paragraph.  Next time it is 6:30 pm and your eyes are getting sore while you try to finish a research project, imagine that is your judge reviewing your motion for summary judgment.  Make your writing enjoyable to that person.


THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. 
Explore posts in the same categories: Practice Tips for Young Attorneys

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