To Lede or Not to Lede

by Erik Cummins on January 6, 2012

Can't Stop Dancing

As a consultant, I wear many hats. One of my gigs recently led me to the chambers of California’s new Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who I will profile soon for a local bar association magazine. While most of our discussion focused on very weighty subjects, such as budget cuts and layoffs, we did briefly wade into one of my favorite topics: writing.

For the benefit of our readers, I asked the Chief for tips on how to write effective court briefs. She responded that she is a big fan of writing that gives her a road map at the outset. “Tell me what you are going to write and why,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “I like clear statements of why I’m reading this and then you can go into detail.”

Often, attorneys are under the mistaken impression that they need long, windy introductions to their writing. Unfortunately, I don’t think judges or clients appreciate that. As one GC at an international manufacturer recently told me, he doesn’t have the patience to read through three or four paragraphs before he gets to the meat of the writing. By that time, he’s already moved on to something else.

Now why can’t they teach brevity in law school? Or maybe that’s the problem after all. Maybe they teach the opposite.

For more tips, I suggest Bryan Garner’s book, “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges.” Or, if you are in Los Angeles next month, you can come to our writing seminar, “Struggling with Content that Stinks? Let Us Fix It.”

Also on the panel will be professional writer Amy Spach and Per Casey, an online content guru. It’s on February 23 and we will strive to improve real-life examples submitted by attendees. See you there!



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