Friday Legal Writing Question August 24, 2018

Craig Sybert

Do you use an electronic editing software? If you do, which did you choose and why? I am exploring several before I commit to one. The first I used was a free program online called After the Deadline. AtD is Open Source software and has a WordPress plug in if you have a WordPress blog (like this one). But for brief writing, it would not likely be a permanent solution. That said, it was great to have a free, simple option with a deadline looming. To try the program before downloading, insert your test into the demonstration panel. For a moderately sized brief, I inserted my text in sections and switched back and forth to my Word document to make edits. I found that if I put too much text in at once it said I had no errors, which made me feel fantastic. But such perfection was not accurate. After the Deadline found a number instances of passive voice, a subject verb agreement issue, and a couple of minor spelling errors. It is not legal specific, though, so it works best if you have independently reviewed your citations.

Three other powerhouse programs I am keen to try are the extremely popular Grammarly, which has a free Firefox plug in, Perfect It, a subscription that works with Microsoft 365 and is legal specific, and Word Rake. Word Rake is also a subscription and was started by an attorney. Each seems beneficial, so look out for a comparison post in the near future.


August 17, 2018: What Did You Write This Week?


This week’s Friday Legal Writing Question is:

What did you write this week?

I wrote an appellate brief contesting the denial of a suppression motion. Making this argument was difficult because the judge was exceptionally thorough in his reasoning. But as any legal writer knows, by the time you get to the end of your research you are convinced you have at least a reasonable foothold on an argument. Even when an argument is not likely to prevail, as appointed counsel, my clients deserve the best shot I can give them at overturning a conviction.

Here is snippet from the brief:

Once there has been a seizure, the question becomes whether officers had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Mr. X was engaged in criminal activity and was armed and dangerous, justifying both the stop and the search. Green v. United States, 662 A.2d at 1390  citing Terry, 392 U.S. at 30. The principle indicia of reasonable suspicion relied upon by the government were: the “bulge” in the crotch area of Mr. X pants; Mr. X glance at his waistband when someone in the group told everyone to show the police their waists; and Mr. X movements to get behind another person on the sidewalk.

I also wrote a contingency fee retainer agreement for a new matter. Writing a retainer letter seems like it should be simple, but it is not. retainers are contracts, and the balance of power between the author (the lawyer) and the client is often unequal in terms of education and understanding of the legal process generally. To make the task easier, I found a very helpful checklist from the DC Bar, here. One is never truly done editing a retainer agreement because each case is different, but having spent the time this week, I now have a basis to work from.

A note about the photograph: the moon on Monday (my younger son’s birthday!) was a sliver of light just like this photo. The photographs I use for blog posts come from Unsplash, a free image site. Credit badges link to the artists who provide their works. Photo credit:

unsplash-logoSadman Sakib

Friday Legal Writing Question August 9, 2018

Annie Spratt

Today’s legal writing question is about the work you do before you write.

Specifically, what research tool or tools do you use? Do you invest in Westlaw or Lexis? Or, do you take advantage of free services like FastCase and Google Scholar? I use Westlaw, and have a feature called Related Documents that allows some limited access to briefs, secondary sources, and trial level pleadings. Do you feel you get your money’s worth if you pay, and do you feel you’re getting what you need if you are using free services?

Reading briefs in other cases helps me structure my arguments, particularly when I haven’t written about a topic I also enjoy reading the opinions in the cases for those briefs because they often differ wildly from the arguments made by counsel in their briefs. Of course, what matters is the reported opinion, but looking at how arguments are crafted is rarely wasted research time.

Friday Legal Writing Question August 3, 2018

Today’s Friday Legal Writing Question is:rainier-ridao-569546-unsplash
Rainier Ridao

Do your appellate brief first-drafts run longer than the page limit? My first drafts are rarely  longer than the page limit. Does this mean I am a master at stating my arguments with precision? Not necessarily, but digging into how I organize my research and writing could provide an answer. I tend to research a lot before writing a word, and then, as I find my key arguments, pull quotes and cases into my draft to work around. This works for me, but I would like to experiment some with writing more free form in my first draft and cutting back instead of building brick-by-brick.

Do you write unencumbered in your first draft, or is every line a struggle? Do you like to put every thought on the page and cut, or do you build arguments like a brick wall? When editing, do you slash with abandon or agonize over each cut? Do you play with fonts and margins? If your briefs are short, do you think you make your point clearly or could you use more analysis?