Brevity in Legal Writing

November 28, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Brevity is the art of guiding readers to a chosen conclusion using the most direct route possible. It gives writing force. Lawyers can make their writing sharp and penetrating by mastering this art.

Brevity is essential when you want to convey information to your reader, as is the case in legal writing. Most of the work in brevity occurs during the revision process, when you remove all the words and concepts that will detract from your overall point. The only way you will master brevity is to revise once, revise twice, and then revise again.

The first key to brevity is to craft single proposition sentences. This means that each sentence should serve a single purpose. If possible, each sentence should be structured noun-verb-subject. This one is easy if you use Word because it will tell you when your sentences are too complicated. Ninety percent of the time, the warning is right — you could pare it down. Eliminate unnecessary adverbs and nouns in the revision process.

Next, get rid of and eliminate redundancies. (Did you catch that one?) Redundancies do not do anything for you except add empty words to the page.

Also, keep an eye out for complicated verb tenses when you are revising. Instead of saying the court “has held” or “was considering,” use the simple past tense — “held” or “considered” in this case. Any time you see a “helping verb” (underlined in the above examples), be on the alert as to whether you really need the help. Most often, you can reduce a complicated verb tense to a simple one.

Finally, make sure that clarity does not suffer from ruthless editing. Clarity should improve exponentially with each revision.

Again, focus on brevity in the revision process, not the drafting process. The drafting process is where you organize your thoughts and structure your argument. By mastering brevity, you demonstrate your command of the law, because one must understand an argument in order to convey it succinctly.

Solo and small firm attorneys should contact me by email or phone at 608-620-3529 to schedule a free consultation.

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