Clean Up Your Writing - Tips for Lawyers to Improve Motions and Memos

<p>While some lawyers ply their trade primarily in the courtroom, the reality is that most of us spend the majority of our time on written work product, not eloquent jury arguments.  This week, I came across two links that are quick reads and have the potential to markedly improve work product with little time invested.</p>

The first is Typography For Lawyers. The site is run by Matthew Butterick, an attorney in Los Angeles. His pre-law background is graphic design and typography, with experience running a website development studio.  I also came from a non-law (and web programming/design) background and thus the attention to presentation that he's advocating really resonated with me.  I spent several years helping attorneys gain maximum impact in the courtroom by applying good presentation skills to their in-trial advocacy.  Mr. Butterick makes the point that those same principles can apply to your written work as well:

When you speak to a judge, do you stand at the lectern, eyes cast downward, and read from a script in a monotone? No, of course not. To maintain the judge’s attention during your argument, you change the speed and volume of your delivery; you gesture; you extemporize. You do this because you don’t merely want to be heard—you want to persuade. The text matters, but so does the presentation.

So it is on the printed page. The text matters, but if that’s all that mattered, then everything could be set in 12-point Times New Roman. And that would be the equivalent of staring at the lectern.

Typography is always important because presentation is always important


The second resource I'd like to point out today is an article entitled 4 Danger Signs To Search For, Before Sending Off Your Novel by Charlie Jane Anders.  The tips from that article may be geared to fiction writers, but they apply also to legal writing. A few quick word searches through your pleadings for these warning signs can improve the final product with a minimal time investment. I highly recommend hitting the link to read the full article, but the TLDR version of what to watch out for is:


1) Adverbs. In a nutshell, you do a search for "ly" in your manuscript. 

2) Sentences beginning with "It." The main problem with "it" is that it's a pronoun, so you must be absolutely clear about what "it" refers to. And when a sentence begins with "it," that can be another red flag pointing to bad writing.

3) There was, or there were. Most people will tell you to keep your use of the verb "to be" to an absolute minimum. But you can't avoid using "is" or "was" altogether, and like everything else, "to be" has its place in your prose ... But you absolutely should do a quick search for "there was" and "there were" — which are pretty clearcut instances of the verb "to be" flopping around when a stronger verb could be flexing its muscles. 

4) Was being, or were being. Just as most experts will tell you to avoid the verb "to be" as much as possible, they'll also warn you away from passive verbs.


I'm frequently a passive voice offender in my early drafts and in casual writing. Therefore, I religiously scrub my writing for passive voice whenever I have the time.  With the four suggestions above, I can add a few checkboxes to my quick-search routine.  Maybe one day I'll even have the discipline to apply those to my blog posts =D.