Tuesday, April 7, 2015

More Writing Tools for Lawyers

*This is the second in a multi-post series based on Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

Tool 26: Use Dialogue as a Form of Action

In Tool 26, Clark urges writers to use speech both to advance the story and to give the reader “airy white space that ventilates dialogue.” According to Clark, though, when reporting information—which lawyers often do—the writer should intermix dialogue and other storytelling techniques to ensure quoted material comes with context.

I’ve talked about this before, but choice quotes from documents or deposition testimony reveal far more than summaries of the same information. And deposition testimony offers the same “airy white space” that visually gives the reader a break.

Tool 27: Reveal Traits of Character
I got ahead of myself last week in talking about Tool 5. I urged writers to use facts to show, rather than tell the reader the story. Clark covers this tip in Tool 27, when he encourages writers to avoid “vague character adjectives,” such as “superstitious” or “quirky,” and instead use facts to allow the reader to draw the conclusion.
This recent article outlines how attorneys for the federal government in a high-profile criminal case are using emails to show that RBS employees made false statements about mortgage securities purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Rather than simply tell the judge that RBS believed the securities were bad, the attorneys have used specific language from numerous emails in which RBS employees called the securities “lemons,” “junk,” and “pigs.” Attorneys presented one former RBS vice president with an email in which he called the securities “crap.”
When asked if the word “crap” is ever used in a positive sense, the former employee responded: “Nothing comes to mind.”
That's powerful stuff.

Tool 32: Place Gold Coins Along the Path
This is an interesting tool used most effectively, I believe, by suspense writers. Think of a novel or story with a plot twist—The Postman Always Rings Twice, Gone Girl, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Once you learn the ending, you see the “gold coins” the writer dropped along the way foreshadowing the twist.
Clark has this to say about the importance of “gold coins”:
Think of a gold coin as any bit that rewards the reader. A good start is its own reward….But what about the territory between the beginning and the end? With no gold coins for motivation, the reader may drift out of the forest….’ The easiest thing for a reader to do,’ argued famed editor Barney Kilgore, ‘is to quit reading.’
That couldn’t be more true with legal briefs. While you probably can’t weave a plot twist in to your legal brief, you can drop gold coins along the way to ensure your brief remains as interesting as possible throughout. Clark suggests that a gold coin can be an anecdote, a “startling” fact, a “telling” quote, or other interesting information. While you’ll want to start with your strongest argument and evidence, work hard to keep the middle of you brief interesting as well by employing Clark’s other tools.  

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