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