Making it “Write”

I often collaborate with other attorneys. We routinely create documents together. I know what I am looking for in a final product. I share my 30 Rules for Legal Writing with them. You may not agree with all my rules and there is sometimes a good reason to vary a particular rule. Occasionally, my collaborators and I have to negotiate. Still, I find things go more smoothly if co-authors work from the same set of expectations and make it “write.”

Here they are.

Rich’s 30 Rules for Legal Writing:

  1. Eliminate unnecessary words; no throat clearing.
  2. Keep it simple.
  3. Keep it direct.
  4. Keep your sentences short.
  5. Use active voice.
  6. State one idea at a time.
  7. Accuracy matters.
  8. Beware of repetition.
  9. State the issue.
  10. If an authority states the controlling rule, quote it.
  11. Use quotations from authorities if the specific words matter, otherwise paraphrase accurately. 
  12. If a statute or rule cites the controlling principle, begin with it, then refer to the cases.
  13. Use semicolons in lists or to show that two thoughts in independent clauses are intimately connected.
  14. When citing a case in the forum jurisdiction, refer to the official citation only.
  15. When citing a case that may not be easily available to the judge, attach a copy.
  16. Use explanatory parentheticals with a See or Cf. signal or if the application of the authority to the case is not obvious.
  17. Ordinarily, put the citations, except for case names, in the footnotes.
  18. Use bold text, not italics, to emphasize.
  19. Avoid abbreviations unless authorized in case names by the bluebook.
  20. Do not use contractions.
  21. Punctuation goes inside quotation marks even if that makes them technically inaccurate.
  22. No Harvard commas, unless the comma would prevent a misunderstanding.
  23. No extra spaces between sentences.
  24. Left justify your margins.
  25. Number your pages
  26. Reread and edit your draft.
  27. Be consistent.
  28. If you can get someone else to read and comment on your writing, do it.
  29. If you do not understand what you have written, you can be sure the Court will not either.
  30. Proofread.


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