Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Writing Tools for Lawyers Part III

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

Tool 38 Prefer Archetypes to Stereotypes

With Tool 38, Clark recognizes the stock structures or narrative themes present in writing. Clark urges writers to employ themes and symbols subtly—In Clark’s words, use symbols not cymbals to advance the story. 

Legal writers are wise to employ themes in their briefs. Common themes include:

-good versus evil (or big, powerful versus small, weak)
-government versus the little man
-overcoming obstacles
-rich versus poor
-war and peace
-purposes of punishment  

Good writers don’t beat the reader over the head with the theme, though. Instead, they allow the theme to run as an undercurrent throughout the argument.
In next week’s post, I’ll tackle the topic of developing and employing themes in legal writing.   

Tool 43 Read for Both Form and Content

Clark urges writers to look for “the machinery beneath the text;” that is, to “see how it works.” Good writers better their craft by learning from other accomplished writers.

Legal writers should do the same and read briefs by good writers. Briefs written by John Roberts and Elena Kagan (when they were practitioners), Paul Clement, Seth Waxman, and David Boies are good places to start. Read briefs closely and critically, identifying the techniques used. 

Ross Guberman’s Point Made and Noah Messing’s The Art of Advocacy include hundreds of examples of good briefs that employ various legal writing strategies. Pick a strategy you can emulate and make a point to do so in your next brief. Once you become familiar and comfortable with that strategy, employ another.   

Tool 45 Break Long Projects Into Parts

“Tiny drops of writing become puddles that become rivulets that become streams that become deep ponds.” So says Clark, in reminding writers to make writing a habit. 

A large project (an appellate brief, for example) can seem overwhelming. And what happens when a project feels overwhelming? We procrastinate, choosing to work on easier tasks until the last possible minute.

Bad briefs often result from poor time management. I know from my own experience that too many attorneys don’t even think about—much less begin—writing a brief until a week (or less) before it is due. The near-certain result is a brief that could have been good if the writer had taken time to organize the arguments, polish the writing, and properly proofread.

Follow Clark’s suggestion and break large writing projects into parts, set a schedule, and stick to it. And leave plenty of time to pull those parts together to create a cohesive final product.

You don’t even have to devote an entire day to writing—you can break your schedule down into hours if that works better for you. And if you feel you need breaks from writing (which I recommend), you can schedule “off days.”

5/1—3 hours
Confirm and draft ancillary sections required by Court of Appeals rules
5/2—5 hours
Draft Statement of the Case
5/3—4 hours
Draft Appeal Issue #1
5/4—3 hours
Draft Appeal Issue #2
5/5—3 hours
Draft Appeal Issue #3
5/8—2 hours
Draft Summary of the Argument
5/9—2 hours
Draft Table of Contents and Table of Authorities
5/11—5 hours
Proofread and polish
5/12—2 hours
Coworker review
5/13—2 hours


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