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How to Draft Like a Brief-Writing Rockstar

Ross Guberman of Legal Writing Pro has written a terrific article on "Five Ways to Write Like John Roberts" (PDF). No, not that John Roberts. And not that John Roberts, either. You know -- John Roberts, the current Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. That John Roberts.

Roberts It turns out that Justice Roberts has "rockstar" status in something he doesn't even do anymore: brief-writing. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once labeled him the “best” advocate to come before the Supreme Court. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who voted against his nomination, observed that even Roberts’ opponents called him “one of the best advocates, if not the best advocate, in the nation.” Guberman notes that, according to Supreme Court insiders, Roberts' brief on behalf of the state of Alaska in Alaska v. EPA was the “best brief that the Justices had ever seen."

What are Roberts' tricks of the trade? Guberman offers five straightforward ways that lawyers can be more like John Roberts in their own writing:

1. Let your facts "show, not tell:" Guberman says that the facts in a brief should read like narrative nonfiction, like something you’d read in The Atlantic or The New Yorker. The best writers will find a way to show you their point without "shoving that conclusion down your throat."

2. Add speed through short and varied transitions. Roberts jump-starts his prose by starting sentences with short, punchy words. For example, here is a passage from the Alaska brief:

But the EPA cannot claim that ADEC's decision was “unreasoned.” Nor can the EPA assert that ADEC's determination in any way results in emissions exceeding national standards or permitted increments. How to control emissions within those standards, without exceeding available increments, was for the State to decide.

3. Add elegance and clarity through parallel constructions. Guberman writes that parallel construction is a good way to streamline information and make your points stick. Another example from the Alaska brief:

The Red Dog Mine is the largest private employer in the Northwest Arctic Borough, where geography and the harsh environment pose unique employment challenges, offer few employment alternatives, and limit any concern about other industrial development ...

I think Guberman's article and Roberts' Alaska brief combine to provide a great road map for lawyers who want to improve the effectiveness of their writing. See Guberman's full story (PDF) to get the rest of his tips.

(Hat tip: How Appealing)

Posted by Bruce Carton on March 2, 2010 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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