Fear Has No Place in Legal Writing

In my experience, I am bored to tears with CLEs. Not so with Stuart Teicher’s CLE on persuasive legal writing, a down-to-earth manifesto about what it means to write well in the age of Twitter. Teicher coins the term “shortwriting,” which means “being able to persuade in short bursts and finding a way to convey complex thoughts and multiple ideas clearly and quickly.”

(Please note that I am not being paid to sell you on Stuart Teicher or his shortwriting concept—I am simply compelled to write about CLEs that won’t bore you to tears.)

Keep reading to learn more about shortwriting, as well as a point I believe Teicher should add to his presentation: that fear has no place in legal writing.

What is Shortwriting?

Shortwriting, according to Teicher, is a surgical strike. It’s getting in and getting out, making your point as powerfully as you can, while keeping in mind—at all times—that your reader’s time and attention is limited.

Here’s shortwriting in a bulletpoint nutshell:

  • Your goal: The task of reading your legal writing should be effortless.
  • Eliminate the pointless distraction of legalese.
  • Edit your legal writing like you edit your status updates and tweets.
  • Give as much time to thinking and organizing as you do the actual legal writing.
  • Stop speaking (and writing) like a lawyer.
  • Related: Write like you speak (only if you don’t speak like a lawyer).
  • Your legal writing should be understood the first time it’s read.
  • Important: Make everything relate back to a clear thesis statement that explains why your client wins and state the because.
  • Write: “I love you.”
  • Don’t write: “I have a profound and enduring affection for you.”
  • Write: “I sent an email.”
  • Don’t write: “I sent a piece of correspondence.”

You want to hook your readers from the beginning and not let go till it’s done. Because if you don’t, you can be sure that Facebook and Twitter (or old-fashioned email) will pull them away.

What Does Fear Have to do with Poor Legal Writing?

Compelling and persuasive legal writing means a lot of cutting and editing. It also means not doing things you’ve done in the past, like use Latin and words that are empty of real meaning.

Teicher uses the example: “It is beyond questioning.” When you use a phrase like that, you insult the reader, because you’re not allowing your reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

But such a phrase is not just an example of poor legal writing.

If you go deeper you’ll find that its use is based on fear. You fear that your reader will not find in your client’s favor, or that you will not otherwise persuade your reader with your legal writing, so you say your point is beyond questioning, or that your point is “clearly” and “obviously” true.

Get rid of fear. Use Teicher’s shortwriting method in your legal writing and you won’t need to fear that you haven’t been persuasive.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/writefromkaren/2225466479/)


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  • Teicher’s most important point may be the need to spend most of the time thinking and organizing, instead of writing. Simple is complicated. This is just as true for writing as it is for industrial design.

    • Chris Bradley

      And that thinking and organizing should be done throughout all drafts, from first to final.