When you have an online web presence, you get asked all sorts of things.
But this was a new one, which I reprint with the permission of Mr. Dennis W. Webb of Fort Worth, TX.:
I realize you're probably very busy, so I'll get right to my problem. Tomorrow I'm to begin writing summaries of a local lawyer's court cases. (Sorry, I'm not even sure what this is called.) I've read your “Legal Writing Tips,” which seems to be straightforward advice. Can you think of anything else that may be useful in my first day on the job?
Got any advice for Mr. Webb?
Using bullet points, lists and subheadings work well when you’re trying to condense a lot of information, especially if you’re writing for the Web.
How much does this pay? Why can’t the lawyer write his/her own summaries? (After all, who knows the case better than the advocate?) I’m finishing an opinion today, but I’ll have time over the weekend to write a summary or two.
Here are my tips, for what they are worth. They may not be as good as those of Professor Froomkin, but are certainly funnier.
STYLISTIC TIPS FOR LEGAL WRITING
– As a matter of style, appellate courts hold; trial courts find and rule.
– Parties do not allege in appellate courts, they argue.
– Reasoning is followed; rulings and rules are complied with; requirements of rules are met; requirements, tests, or prongs of tests in cases are satisfied.
– If someone takes an action because of a rule or a contract provision, they act pursuant to (not according to) that rule or provision. In accordance with should be used sparingly.
Simpler = Better. Do not use any words you would not normally use when speaking. For example:
– Dont use contend or other flowery words for argument when you can use argue.
– Dont use brought an action against when you can use sued.
– Dont use additionally or in addition when you can use also.
– Another frequent offender: subsequently. Who actually says this ever? Use then wherever possible. The same goes for the incredibly awful at a subsequent time use later.
– And, it is almost always Here, not In this case, or other such rubbish.
Passive voice has its place. However, overuse can lead to vagueness, fatigue, and probably cancer. View all occurrences of the word was with suspicion it is a foul and patient beast waiting to defile the writing of the unwary.
Never use contractions like its in legal writing rather, use it is. And in case you were wondering, the correct usage is: The monkey scratched its back. and not The monkey scratched its back.
Clearly is generally accepted in the legal profession as a signal that your argument sucks.
If you are writing about filing a pleading, such as a complaint or answer, you can assume we know that it has been filed in the trial court (e.g., saying Plaintiff filed her complaint in circuit court is redundant). Remember, motions and pleadings are filed in trial courts, briefs are filed in appellate courts.
Never use the word said unless you are writing about the words someone spoke. For example, I bought a jacket and wore said jacket yesterday is wrong. I know you think it makes your work sound intelligent, but it really makes you sound like a poser.
Be judicious with legal jargon like inter alia. See poser, above.
Signals such as however, further, moreover, and etc. are useful, but please, only one per sentence. They should illuminate the structure and direction of your writing, not provide it.
Do not put a full case cite in the middle of a sentence. It is more elegant to state the proposition for which you are citing the case, and then cite the case after the end of the sentence. Mastering the use of parenthetical citations is also not a bad idea.
With rare exceptions (such as alleging jurisdictional facts, e.g. Plaintiff is a resident of Wyoming.), legal writing should never be in the present tense. You are an officer of the court, not a basketball announcer.
When referring back to a case to which you have already cited, do not refer to it as the X decision. For example: Roe held that and not The Roe decision held that . Something like The Roe court should be used infrequently and with extreme caution, mostly when you are actually making a comment about the composition or jurisprudence of the court.
When describing the reasoning of an appellate court, beware of The court began by because it sounds like you are just copying out the opinion. The reader will figure out that the court began by doing whatever because you will have put it first. This is how legal writing works: facts; rules; application C+.
Listing the factors of a multi-prong test in one sentence, using 1), 2), etc. is perfectly acceptable, and preferable (depending on the test, of course) to separate sentences each starting with First, Second, and so on (and Secondly just sounds like your mouth is bleeding). Just remember that if you use a colon, the prongs are separated by semi-colons, and if you do not, by commas.
If you are writing about a specific party, you do not usually need to use an article; it is Plaintiff moved and not The plaintiff moved. The latter refers to plaintiffs in general. To illustrate: To satisfy International Shoe, a plaintiff must allege sufficient minimum contacts. Here, Plaintiff alleged
Every time you end a sentence with a preposition, God kills a puppy.
It is official: there is a space between So. and 2d So. 2d is correct, not So.2d.
All word processing programs everywhere (including, I am sure, those used by the Florida Supreme Court) automatically format superscript. Nonetheless, it is Fla. 4th DCA and not Fla. 4th(superscript) DCA.
Everyone uses Times New Roman 12-point font for everything, and so should you. The Florida Supreme Court has held that individualistic formatting is the work of the devil.