Kate Ryland on writing with the goal of connecting, not impressing
Ever find yourself stuck listening to a self-absorbed person? It can be painful, right? They’re so concerned with themselves that they ignore the needs of others in the conversation. You often encounter the same personality when reading legal writing — some writers work so hard trying to impress that they forget the goal is to connect with the reader. Just like the self-absorbed talker, the self-absorbed writer ends up dismissed, ignored, and reviled — ironic, to be sure. If you achieve your goal of connecting, you’ll impress as a by-product. And one of the best ways to connect is using simple words, like near
, in place of more complex words, like in close proximity
Silvia Jordan on avoiding long sentences
Each word of a sentence adds to the sentence’s mass. When that mass grows too large, it interferes with the idea’s readability and interest, ultimately undermining its persuasiveness. So how big is too big? I’ve long used a 20 word-limit. This doesn’t mean every sentence should be 20 words, but rather that no sentence should exceed 20 words. While 20 may appear arbitrary, it’s not — readability experts’ testing produced this number. So leave 21 for card games, as 20 or below is the magic number for brief writing.
Bill Sigler on avoiding the looooong wind-up
Don’t bury the lede. As a former journalist and current lawyer, I can tell you that this tenet applies equally to legal writing. Judges and clerks deal with dozens of cases and multitudes of submissions each day. So when your brief flashes before their eyes, you better make sure you tell them why you should win, and quickly. If you do so, you’ll distinguish your brief as among the rarified few that doesn’t begin with the all-too-typical unnecessary background, repetitive introductions, and other throat-clearing.
Avi Toltzis on ruthlessly self-editing
In addition to being a student of legal writing, I’m also an aficionado of 1930s British photography. That art was still young then, and, of course, photographers couldn’t use computers to enhance a photo. But the greatest photographic artists of that era committed to a ferocious form of self-editing, even before taking a single shot. The best obsessed over every detail to create a perfect picture that looked and felt natural. Great legal writers know the same lesson — greatness can’t be achieved without ruthless self-editing. So before you submit a brief, letter, or memorandum, be your own most ferocious editor.