Myth: They Don’t Teach Social Media Marketing in Law School

When I talk to lawyers about their web marketing strategies, one of the first arguments they raise in defense is “Yeah, but, it’s not like they teach social media marketing in law school!” Guess what, now they do! Continue reading

Michigan Supreme Court Releases New Citation Rules

This month the Michigan Supreme Court issued a new set of citation rules called the Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual. These standards apply to judges opinions and to lawyers’ briefs alike. While there aren’t too many changes from the previous standard of legal citation, the manual does have some useful suggestions:

Short-Form Citations

You only have to provide the full citation to a case once (such as Hays v Lutheran Social Servs of Mich, 300 Mich App 54, 56-59; 832 NW2d 433 (2013)). After that you can use a short-form citation (Hays, 300 Mich App at 59). If you haven’t referred to any cases in between, or if the sentence makes clear which case you are referring to, you can also use Id. (Id. at 60), but only for cases, not statutes.

String Citations

If you are tempted to string together multiple sources to prove your point, the Court says don’t. String citations “disrupt the flow of the text and burden readers.” Cooney, Stringing Readers Along, 85 Mich B J 44 (Dec 2006).

Long Case Names

If you are citing a case which has a name that goes on for days you can abbreviate it as long as what you end up with still allows the reader to identify the case. For example:

Original: Trout Unlimited Muskegon – White River Chapter v City of White
Cloud, 195 Mich App 343; 489 NW2d 188 (1992).
Shortened: Trout Unlimited v White Cloud, 195 Mich App 343; 489 NW2d 188 (1992).

Unavailable Citations

The Court provided a format to use if you are quoting a case so new it hasn’t been published yet: Bev Smith, Inc v Atwell, ___ Mich App ___, ___; ___ NW2d ___ (2013) (Docket No. 308761); slip op at 3.

Statutory Ranges

If you are citing a range of statutes, repeat the “MCL” before the end of the range: MCL 769.1 through MCL 769.36.

Capitalizing Statutes

If the act contains a short title, capitalize the first letter of each substantive word, and do not include the year of enactment. Sponsors should be eliminated (i.e. the Civil Rights Act rather than the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act). The word “Michigan” should be used when part of the short title or when distinguishing a Michigan law from another jurisdiction’s statute with the same title. If an act does not have an official title, the short title should not be capitalized (i.e. the no fault act).

Legal Teatises

If a legal treatise has more than 3 authors, keep the first name and then add “et al.” Once you cite the treatise in full once, you can refer to it by the author’s name in a short-form citation.

Internet Materials

Because the Reporter’s Office creates an archive of Internet materials cited in published opinions, judges will avoid quoting any website that requires a subscription or with video. The inability to view these materials later can undermine their precedential value, so use alternative sources when you can.

Legal citation may seem very boring to the average practitioner. But being up to date on the latest formatting and citation rules will help your briefs look professional and persuasive to clients and judges alike.

Lisa Schmidt is a ghostwriter for Legal Linguist in Southfield, Michigan. She can provide thoroughly researched motion and brief writing services using up to date citation methods. For help meeting your filing deadlines, contact Legal Linguist today.

 

Writing Simply: Avoid Legalese

Lawyers and other highly trained professionals are in danger. They don’t know how talk to their clients, and so in the world of social media they risk losing followers by talking over their heads. So how can you fight the disease of legalese? Here are some tips:

Drop the Dictionary

Every lawyer has developed an elaborate vocabulary of legal terms, in both latin and English. But using those terms in your blog doesn’t make you sound smart. Instead it confuses your readers and makes your blog hard to read. Drop the dictionary and cut out anything you might have to define if that same client walked into your office. If you’re not sure, ask a non-lawyer friend what they think a word means. You may be surprised what counts as legalese.

Shorten Your Sentences

One of the symptoms of legalese is long, wandering sentences with lots of commas. Particularly when viewed on a mobile device, these sentences can seem to go on forever. Your readers will get lost in the maze of clauses and eventually just give up. Befriend the period. Break up your sentences into easily digestible pieces. Your readers will thank you for it.

Check Your Tone

One sure way to avoid a legalese infection is to read your blog posts aloud. Blogs should be conversational, so if your article sounds more like a lecture you know you have a problem. Take your formality down a notch and change up your style. You’re not teaching a class, you’re writing to a friend. Tone can be tough to manage, but with some practice you can develop a style that is compelling and conversational.

The last thing your followers are looking for on your blog is a legal brief. So if you find yourself at risk of spouting legalese, stop, look, and listen. Walk away from your blog post for at least an hour. Come back and read it anew. And if you aren’t sure about your tone read it aloud to a non-lawyer. If you still need help managing your tone, contact blogging coach Lisa Schmidt for a meeting.

Don’t Waste Your Introduction Paragraph

Take time to write a good introductionIt can be tough to make enough time to write your motions and briefs in the midst of a busy trial schedule. But that is no excuse for ignoring your introductory paragraph. Instead, busyness should be reason number 1 to carefully craft the introduction – the busyness of your judge.

Far too many lawyers throw away an important opportunity to get judges on their side while writing motions and briefs. Uniformly, the opening of motions are something like:

NOW COMES the Defendant, John Doe, and in support of his motion states:

But far too few take advantage of their introduction to tell the judge what it is they want. Consider this alternative:

NOW COMES the Defendant, John Doe, and asks this court to stay the income withholding order until an accounting on the satisfaction of the judgment can be provided. In support of his motion, Defendant states:

With one quick, carefully crafted sentence, you can tell your judge what you are asking for and why. This will give the judge a starting point from which to consider all the facts and circumstances you include in your motion. Rather than making your judge gradually deduce what you need him or her to do, you put the request out there and then back it up with why.

The same principle applies to your legal briefs too. Rather than skipping straight to the Statement of Facts, create a separate Introduction section. By putting a summary of your legal arguments right up front it will help your busy judge understand what to expect. It also allows you to frame the question and lead the judge to the conclusions you want him or her to make.

The introduction to your motion or brief is very important, especially once the pleading makes its way into the hands of a busy judge. Take the time to craft a careful introduction – whether a sentence or a summary paragraph – so the judge can clearly understand what you’re asking for and will be more likely to agree with you.

If you need help crafting well-written motions and briefs, contact ghost-writer Lisa Schmidt.

Readability Keeps Readers from Bouncing

Basketball in mid-air positionHave you ever visited a website and been overcome by the wall of text covering your screen? You didn’t read it all, did you? Instead you quickly clicked the back button in search of something you could digest more easily. Content is crucial, but if you want potential clients to read it, you have to spend a little time thinking about layout.

Write in short paragraphs.

Maybe it’s because the next generation really does have a shorter attention span, or maybe it’s because you can only fit so many words on a smartphone screen, but in either case the long, fully developed paragraphs you were taught in law school will drive readers away. Instead, try to limit your paragraphs to 2-5 sentences. This will add white space to the page and make it easier for readers to follow along. It will also force you to be more concise, making it easier for you to hit your 500 word goal.

Use headings and lists freely.

Headings give readers a road map of where your blog is going and help them know when you’re about to change topics. Lists break up your paragraphs, create more white space, and summarize your points into short, understandable nuggets that your readers can remember.

If it’s complicated, use visuals.

If you are trying to convey a complex process or abstract idea, consider illustrating your point with a chart or infographic. There are free resources you can use to create easy-to-follow graphs to pair with your explanation. The more different ways you can convey your point within your blog, the more your readers will understand it.

Blog writing is a different style than you learned in research and writing classes or use in your legal briefs. If you want your readers to get to the end of your posts, make sure to build in white space using short paragraphs, headings, lists, and sometimes visuals. All these tools will make your blog easier to read and more appealing to your potential clients.

3 Benefits of a Well-Written Brief

Speaker at PodiumYou heard it in law school: it’s important to include a well-written brief with every motion. But why? Is it really worth the time and effort to write the brief when you can just argue the motion yourself at hearing? Here are 3 reasons why you should take your professors’ advice.

1. Framing the Issue

How you frame a question can help sway the decision maker’s answer. For example, in determining child support, one party may want the question to be “How much should an unemployed person be expected to earn in this economy.” The other might say “Should the father be punished because the mother voluntarily quit her job?” By taking the time to craft a brief around your version of the issue, you can control the direction of the hearing even before stepping into the courthouse.

2. Prepping the Judge

On many motions, complex facts or intricate legal circumstances can make the difference between success and failure. If there is some distinction that wins the argument for your side, you want the judge to be aware of it ahead of time. In the above example, the father wants the judge to know the circumstances of the mother’s job loss. The mother wants the judge to know all about her income and monthly budget. Use the brief to prepare the judge so that he or she knows what to listen for at the hearing.

3. Prepare for the Hearing

Even if you have a judge with a reputation for not reading briefs, it is still worth your while to prepare one. Why? Because it will better prepare you for your argument. By researching the competing legal theories and preparing your arguments in advance you will be ready to deal with the other side’s arguments on motion call. The brief will put the answers to the judge’s questions at your fingertips when you are at the podium.

A well-written brief is the strongest tool in your toolbox on motion day. It puts the judge in the right state of mind going in, and gives you everything you need to make a convincing argument. The time it takes to research and write the brief will be well-spent and will often make the difference between winning your case and placating an unhappy client.

 

Break Away from the Forms

SignatureThe ABA Journal recently published an article criticizing modern lawyers’ ability to write. Author Bryan A. Garner blames law schools. What’s worse, he claims that most lawyers don’t know they’re bad writers and that somehow the industry is under the collective delusion that legalese is the mark of good writing.

Mr. Garner is certainly not entirely wrong. Law school grading policies definitely contribute to the downplaying of literary aptitude.

They inundate students with poorly written, legalese-riddled opinions that read like over-the-top Marx Brothers parodies of stiffness and hyperformality. And they offer law students little if any feedback (on substance, much less style) from professors on exams and writing assignments.

Traditional law school exams focus on speed over quality, resulting in a kind of brain dump that does nothing to teach future lawyers to become masters of their craft. These exams are a far cry from the well-developed legal brief appellate courts expect or the nuanced fact-intensive motions that most trial courts require.

While law schools play a role, wordsmiths among attorneys also get caught up in “the way it’s always done.” Mr. Garner points out that this tendency to unwittingly write poorly is particularly noticeable among transactional attorneys. This is most likely because transactional attorneys work from forms far more often than litigants. Changing those forms is time-intensive and therefore costly, so instead the old legalese traditions live on, even if the authors know better.

The same can also be said for new lawyers. When an experienced litigant writes a motion, he can start from scratch because he is well versed in what needs to be included.  When the freshly admitted lawyer goes to write the same motion, she has to seek out an example, either from an online formbank or her firm’s senior partner, to make sure she covers all the issues. Her lack of confidence will often stop her from updating the form’s language because she assumes it is there for a reason.

There is also tremendous pressure to turn work out quickly. Associates don’t feel free to take time updating the language of a form, motion, or brief. Instead they work as quickly as they can to turn out passable work for the partners’ approval. Quantity and not quality is the primary concern.

As long as these tendencies remain, our industry will continue to be the butt of many jokes. Top partners and solo practitioners need to lead the way, improving the standard of filed pleadings and transactional forms. Similarly, judges must hold poor writers accountable for their errors so they will improve. If we in the industry want to be better legal scribes, we need to be willing to buck the trends and be innovative in our writing.