Article Authored By: Teresa Dettloff
In my early years of practicing law, I’ve received many a draft back covered in red pen. Below are some tips I’ve learned through my experience that can help to improve your legal writing.
Organization of any legal writing document is key. If the ideas do not follow in a logical manner, your arguments could become confusing and lose the reader. Spend some time before you start writing to decide how to structure your arguments so that they are most persuasive. I find it helpful to structure a brief as if I was explaining the concept to someone with little to no background knowledge of the subject.
Relying on authorities and binding caselaw is essential when drafting a document where you are asking a court to rule in your favor. I’ve found more success in avoiding large quotes and blocks of text, or multiple case illustrations that don’t add to the analysis. I generally use parenthetical citations sparingly to analogize the facts of the case to the case at hand, and dive into one or two more lengthy case illustrations when the facts and arguments of that case are analogous to the issues being argued. It is also good practice to print those authorities and have them ready for court on the day that you are arguing.
Use of Headings
The best way that I have found in my experience to avoid conflating arguments and to make the legal issues explicitly clear and concise is to use headings and sub-headings whenever possible. Headings and sub-headings can be particularly helpful when you are drafting or responding to a motion that addresses multiple legal issues.
Explicitly Ask for What you Want
If the ultimate goal is for the judge to grant your motion, ask for that explicitly at the end of each section. Tying each of your individual arguments to the overall relief that you are seeking helps your legal document to achieve a cohesive structure. It also makes it clear to the court what exactly you are asking it to do, and the reasons why.
Reorient Yourself to the Issues
The most difficult motions or briefs to respond to are those that are disorganized and conflate the issues. When responding to these types of motions, it is helpful to reorient yourself to the issues before the court first, and then determine how to logically address those issues by providing the court with legal authorities that should guide decision-making, analyzing how the facts of those legal authorities are analogous to the facts of your case. Then, decide how to address counsel’s arguments in turn.
About the Author:
Teresa Dettloff practices law in Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she served as a lead article editor for the law journal. She is also a member of the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter.