Senior Partner Complaints Re: Associate Brief Writing

Thank you, FindLaw, for succinctly substantiating the things I try to teach my international LL.M. students regarding the pitfalls of brief writing.

Associates have spent years writing, from their undergrad thesis papers, to their torturous legal writing courses, to their summer internship memos. Writing is their strong point -- right?

Not if you ask partners, who can quickly rattle off a litany of problems with their associate writing. Here's a brief rundown of partners' biggest complaints.

1. Typos and Grammatical Errors

Sure, there are some areas of ambiguity. Is it caselaw or case law? Do you Oxford comma or not? But aside from those, every typo or grammatical makes you look bad -- and lazy.

2. Too Many Abbreviations (TMA)

Use standard abbreviations and acronyms when appropriate. ERA, CERCLA, and IRS are all fine. Never abbreviate party names, avoid creating novel abbreviations, and for the sake of all that is good in writing, don't let the things like gov't, ass'n, or W. Va. show up anywhere but your citations.

3. Weak Use of Authorities

Cases from other jurisdictions, statutes that have been amended or repealed, and citations that only sort of support your assertions -- they're not of much use. 

4. Sloppy Organization

Make sure arguments are laid out clearly and coherently. Avoid rambling or jumping between arguments and issues.

5. Wordiness and Passive Voice

Passive voice makes issues that are often already very boring and complicated even more boring and complicated. The same goes for wordiness. Focus on what matters and keep things short and tight.

This is all spot on advice. Beyond the obvious punctuation and grammar, I try to leave my students with an organization scheme that they can rely on in any situation. Is it an element driven analysis? Or a factor analysis? Is it a shifting burdens test? Or are some arguments stronger than others? All of these things will drive the organization scheme of the brief. While learning this material in one class is great, we need to teach research and writing across the curriculum to give the students enough practice to make these things second nature.


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