LawProse Lesson 369: But what’s page one for?

LawProse Lesson 369: But what’s page one for?

If there’s one thing that LawProse is famous for, it’s teaching lawyers how to frame legal problems clearly—so that readers will almost instantly understand what’s going on.

It’s a tall order. If you’re engaged in advocacy or analysis, the most important thing is stating the problem clearly on page one. Right at the beginning. No legalistic deadwood before.

If your opening sentences don’t frame the problem in a way that anyone can understand—your nonlawyer friends, for example—then you flunk the LawProse test.

Many things must happen to achieve this effect, just as many things must happen before a virtuoso musician or a star athlete begins to perform. Many things. But ultimately, as a writer, you have a lot riding on your opening words.

So learn how to state problems clearly. What’s the point to be decided or analyzed? What needs to be said to lay a predicate for understanding the point to be decided and analyzed? How many words can you use to lay that predicate?

And why should a nonlawyer stranger be able to understand what you’re writing about? If you’re writing for one particular judge, why should you nonetheless care about universal comprehensibility?

An effective legal writer thinks about these things. But in the end, the most effective legal writers acquire the skill of stating the problem clearly on page one.

Further reading:
The Elements of Legal Style (2d ed. 2002), at pp. 183–87.
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (3d ed. 2011), at pp. 484–87.
Legal Writing in Plain English (2d ed. 2013), at pp. 69–70, 73–77, 193, 202.
Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (2008), at pp. 83–88.
The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (4th ed. 2018), at pp. 397–98, 495, 514.
The Winning Brief (3d ed. 2014), at pp. 77–128, 713, 723.

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