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9 GREAT IDEAS FOR EFFECTIVE BRIEFS, ARGUMENTS

Various disciplines can learn much from each another.  For example, NACDL meetings often feature non-legal talent, such as professional storytellers, helping participating attorneys to better  present powerful opening/closing statements and briefs.

Another possibility for litigators lies in techniques born in creative writing workshops.  We recently attended one in Valdez, AK.   Here are some playwright “tricks of the trade,” edited for litigators.

1.      Always focus on your theme.   Write five sentences expressing your main contention[s] – what your case is all about.  Then say it in two sentences.   Then in three words.   Then, one word.  [You can apply this technique to the various sections of your presentation as well].

2.      Let the characters speak.  Take a participant who has something to do with your brief – a commander, a member of your military jury, an eyewitness, etc.   Pretend a bit.  Think about what this character needs to say, or what others need to hear from him/her.   Also, have you addressed what that person would likely talk about if you had a “one on one” bull session? 

3.      Tell it via cartoons.  Take your central character/accused/petitioner.  In this example, say your client is a person seeking a military pension from the PEB process.   Draw a cartoon  and then write a caption for how healthy they were at the very beginning of your exposition. Then, do the same for the middle of your presentation when they became ill.  Finally, do it again at the end.  Now review your cartoons and captions.  Does the process suggest anything that should be added to the brief?  Does it reveal anything to help you tell the story more  clearly?  

4.      The “Stop, I Want…” approaches.  There are two ways this works.  First, consider yourself as the litigator.  Read through your brief and  give yourself the lawyer’s freedom to say “Stop, I want the decision makers to know that…”   Does this suggest new avenues or help with unanswered questions?  Second, consider the witnesses/participants in your presentation.    Daydream  — give these characters the freedom in your imagination to tell you “Stop, I Want…”   What do they want?  What are their questions?  What are they trying to say? 

5.      Silent movies.  Pretend your witnesses cannot talk.  Imagine them in a silent movie.  When  words fail, how do these characters get across what they are feeling and experiencing?   Does this suggest some persuasive words for the brief?

6.      Surprise! When things become flat, try to come up with something truly unexpected  —  -a sound, a joke, an amusing set of words.  

7.      Enrich your presentation.  Find some strong words that resonate with what you’re trying to say.   Use words that are rich, stark, specific, surprising, sharp.    Remember,  powerful language can empower you and move your issues forward.

8.      Edit  twice.   One time, edit for overall strategic concepts – the Big Ideas.  A second time, proofread for the nitpicky minor edits.  Do NOT do both at the same time.

9.      Work with three “editors.”  [1] The professorial editor. She’s the one addressing the overall situation,  together with word choice, emotions, and vibrancy; she’s also the schoolmarm critiquing the persuasiveness of your legal logic.   [2] The continuity editor.  He’s the one making sure the brief or presentation has supplied all needed  data  — time and place, pertinent regulations, and the positions of the parties.   [3] Finally, the story editor.  Is the brief moving forward?  Are the stakes clear?  Are the questions well-defined?  Are the defense’s  legal positions clear?  

These concepts may be too “artsy” for many.  Property used, however, they can open up interesting, creative ways to make legal writing more powerful and persuasive. 


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