Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Writing to Win: A Book Review

I recently read Steven Stark's well-written book, Writing to Win. Stark advocates a journalistic approach to legal writing and Writing follows that pattern--starting broadly and narrowing its focus as the book goes along. Stark begins by outlining nine rules for good writing--using strong verbs, keeping things short, avoiding generalities etc. He provides specific examples for each of his nine rules, making them easy to understand and apply.

Stark then moves on to "the art of argument" where he offers tips for writing arguments; these tips include focusing on the big picture, developing a theme, and making your writing interesting. As expected, though, Stark devotes the bulk of Writing to tips for drafting briefs. He breaks down his brief-writing tips into two sections--drafting facts and drafting arguments. Stark shows readers how to lead with the most persuasive facts, deal with bad facts, and show, rather than tell, the client's story. He then outlines his tips for writing arguments, which include making the strongest argument first, using CRAC to outline arguments, and effectively using case law. Starks's tips are generally applicable to trial-level briefs (both dispositive and non-dispositive) and appellate-level briefs.

Stark also touches on trial-level documents, such as complaints, answers, affidavits, and discovery requests. I like the tips Stark offers--especially his tip to include an introduction in complaints. I don't normally see introductions in complaints, but I like the idea of including them to help the reader understand the allegations that follow. Other tips, which Stark echoes elsewhere in Writing, include writing in plain English, avoiding adjectives, adverbs, and subjective words, and using short sentences and paragraphs.

Writing is conversational and easy to read. Throughout Writing, Stark offers both good and bad examples from real briefs, showing readers how to apply the tips he offers. Stark also draws examples from other disciplines, including advertising and journalism, to show lawyers why they must get the point quickly to "sell" the client's story.

My only complaint with Writing is Stark's failure to update many of the "real life" examples. Stark originally published the book in 1999 and then updated it in 2012. Many of Stark's examples are from the 1980s and 1990s. While the plain language movement was certainly in effect during that period, I feel legal writing has changed substantially in the last 20 years. And I would have liked to see Stark update some of his older examples to reflect more recent trends in legal writing. That said, Writing is a great resource for new and more mature lawyers alike. Stark offers hundreds of tips that can be implemented by everyone from novice legal writers to experienced appellate litigators.

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