Litigation & Arbitration

Advice on becoming a better writer? L&E 4th yr. Still feel “paralyzed” when assigned a task that involves “new” writing (not just reworking brief already in the can). Want to improve speed & quality

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First, read excellent writing. I know suggesting to read more in this field is hilarious, but when you read a great opinion, brief, or nonfiction, pay attention to what it is about it that strikes you. Hemingway is a great fiction exercise in "concise." After that, can't emphasize prewriting enough. You have to make time for it. But don't go straight for the standard I A 1 i outline model. When I started outlining nonlinearly, as recommended in Garner's The Winning Brief (great book), my life literally changed. I have to let myself brainstorm in circles before organizing. Keeps you flexible until you solidify the best-stated arguments in the right order, which are rarely the first ones you come up with. Don't miss forest for trees - time up front to plan ahead prevents a lot of waste in revisions.

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Pretend you’re arguing with someone on Facebook about politics and just let it RIP... get angry, snarky, and pointed. then take 5, grab a coffee, calm it down, and revise and “soften up” the draft. You’ll be surprised how good it sounds and how fast you did it.

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Practice practice practice. It gets easier...

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Accurate.

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Practice. But most importantly, write for yourself! When I do assignments for a partner that hovers over me, it takes me a long ass time and it comes out like crap. When they leave me alone, my writing is way better and then they say things like "good work, no corrections needed". Also, to help my writing, I wait until I'm exhausted. The reason being is that once I'm tired, my brain stops thinking of all this extra stuff and I'm able to just write it how I would say it. So, the takeaway is that you should figure out what's blocking you from writing well and fix it. You passed law school so you know how to write, no matter what others say.

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Instead of waiting until exhaustion, I believe it is helpful to first write as if you are writing for yourself or for a layperson. Answer the question in non-legal “speak,” and then go back to it, time permitting. Always leave yourself enough time to write and then edit; time is probably the biggest factor.

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Point Made by Guberman. Explains how to write effectively & concisely by using real life examples from notable attorneys. I keep it in my office and reference back whenever I’m stuck spinning my wheels on a memo/brief.

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For context, I’m a 4th year too. I think every associate feels this way to some extent. I definitely did (and still do to some extent) my first couple years of practice. My approach was to manage expectations. I would tell the partner straight up, I’ll work hard to produce the best work product but I’m not the fastest writer. If he/she gave me a deadline that was unworkable I’d politely ask if it REALLY needed to be done a week before the filing deadline etc... always making sure they understood that I would do the work to meet the deadline if the answer was yes. Most of the time, they adjusted. I also was lucky and work for a partner who would sit down with me (and still does if necessary) and walk through the brief paragraph by paragraph and tell me what he would do differently. All of this helped, but the best way I think is just to keep writing. In the beginning I would volunteer weekend time to write briefs because I knew I was slow and wanted to spend the time necessary to produce the best work product I could. I am faster and more confident now, but still have lots to learn. In short my advice is: (1) manage expectations: (2) ask for constructive feedback, a conversation even after the brief is filed when the partner has time can be more valuable then a redline; (3) put in the time; and (4) don’t be afraid of something new because it will make you better in the end.

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What have you done to this point to try to improve?

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Good writing takes time and learning to be a better writer also takes time. As you wrote, absorbing better writing is a great way to go. Read well-written briefs and memos. Continue to read good books that aren’t related to law. Avoid the passive voice!

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Outline your arguments first. It is easier to write when you know where you are going. With respect to the samples, you have to be able to distinguish a good sample from a bad one so they are actually helpful to you. Also, depending on what type of law you practice, a clear brief may be better received than something with themes and analogies. You just need the judge (or their clerk) to understand and agree with what you are saying.

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Also trust your own writing. Legal writing may have a lot of strict requirements and terms of art, but a lot of it is still creative, expressive writing. Once you’re confident on the substance, just get something down. Then you can read it and re-read it until it has the tone or persuasiveness you’re looking for. Over time it’ll get easier to get it right the first time. Also consider some writing on the side. For me, I got into journaling in college and it made a world of difference in my essay and legal writing assignments. I never even kept the entries, just practiced writing and threw them out. To reiterate everyone above: practice and confidence will get you there

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Take a legal writing course from Bryan garner. He’s fantastic. Either in person or online. And check out his books on legal writing.

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