Legal Advocacy Workshops
Training Lawyers to Speak Human

Three Rules for Writing

All our suggestions for powerful writing boil down to three guiding principles. And these principles apply to the many mediums in which modern lawyers work, including formal briefs and memos, letters, email, blogs, newsletters and even PowerPoint.

1.    Use plain English.

Our clients speak a modern language and we should too. So if you would not use a word or phrase when speaking with a colleague, don’t use it in your writing. Speak human.

2.    Lead from the Top.

The principle of leading from the top is the single most effective tool for strong writing and the essential rule for structuring any type of writing. If you open your paper by telling your reader what is important, you will "prime" them about what to look for and they will hunt for that information as they read. When you present that information later, it will click quickly, like a puzzle piece snapping into a space that you have already prepared for it.

The principle of leading from the top is like a fractal because it applies on large and small scales. Lead a paper with your conclusion. Lead a section with a substantive heading. Lead a paragraph with a summary sentence. Lead an email with a strong subject line. Lead the message itself with a summary sentence.

3.    Explain what to do next.

Sane people don’t read briefs, contracts and business letters for pleasure. They read them because they are being paid to read them or because they have a problem and need to read them. What do they want? They want to know what to do next and your job is to tell them. What is the client’s problem and what should be their next steps? What are you asking the court to do?  What do you want your reader to do after reading your e-mail or your letter? Use your writing to make things happen in the real world.