"It has always seemed a bit tragic to me that lawyers suffer so much as writers. Legal writing has always been surrounded with a lot of agony and very little ecstasy, either for the writers or the readers."
Common Writing Challenges
Kathy, in her eighth year at a prominent law firm, was well-liked, smart, and hard working, but her writing was mundane. The firm wanted her writing to match her other stellar qualities. Her motions practice required quick analysis and pithy presentations that fused law with facts to create cogent, easily identifiable, and convincing theories of the case. Within three sessions, she had sharpened her writing to match her analysis. Within another three, her writing had been transformed.
Jayson researched each assignment thoroughly and carefully. His documentation included numerous footnotes and accompanying parentheticals, well-perfected in his journal editing at law school. In his litigation practice, however, his briefs took too long to produce and to read. Most of his time was spent researching, which he enjoyed. This left too little time left for writing and editing readable briefs. The balance was restored in six sessions by re-setting research habits to use or lose authorities as needed for focused issues and pithy theories of the case.
Samantha was an excellent researcher, thinker, colleague, and editor. Her product was well-received overall, and her ideas were original and creative. What her colleagues did not know was that she was pulling all-nighters frequently, unable to get drafts started or finished during regular working hours. The problem was writer’s block. She had created avoidance behaviors that rivaled no one, and her drafts took countless miserable hours to produce. This was playing havoc with her life, both personally and professionally. Professor Ramsfield diagnosed the unique cause of her block. Together, they designed strategies and techniques to create a good draft and restructured her habits so that she could produce excellent drafts during working hours. Samantha was soon able to bill for all minutes spent on each project.
David had been sent to three writing tutors to improve his writing. A native Korean speaker, his writing did not satisfy the partners at his patent law firm, even though his analysis did. The tutors had taken the surface approach of correcting his “English” for mistakes in article and preposition usage. In the first session, Professor Ramsfield identified the problem in his writing, which had little to do with grammar. Within three sessions, he was transforming his writing. He moved from writing like a civil engineer to analyzing and arguing patent protests like a lawyer. After six sessions, the improvements were visible, and he advanced to a prominent position as a patent attorney.
You're Not Alone
Laura could not file a brief on time. Brilliant, likeable, a real “presence” in the firm, she was a good lawyer. But deadlines eluded her. None of the usual techniques had worked, and the firm had tried everything, as had she. All were distressed. After two sessions, the problems became clear; after two more, the techniques, some of them rather radical, were applied; after two more, the techniques for meeting deadlines consistently were in place. The firm announced later that she had not since missed a deadline.
Jonathan had trouble proofreading. Thinking that his work was otherwise good, he had survived for a long time by using spellcheck and other tools. But the frequency with which the mistakes appeared in emails and other documents lost him two jobs. In a third, he was desperate to make sure that his writing did not cost him any further jobs. While the techniques were intense and required changing a number of habits, Jonathan learned them, did them, and reviewed them until he was releasing mistake-free documents consistently.
Lawyers and Managers in Conflict Over Style
A government agency’s legal department hosted hard-working, dedicated lawyers, whose writing was thoughtful, well researched, and analytically strong. There were strong differences, however, in how to approach writing the documents and releasing them in a timely fashion. The supervising attorneys spent hours editing, only to feel that their edits were ignored. The writers spent hours researching and writing, only to feel that their work was edited beyond recognition. The department went through the process together and generated a rubric for analytical excellence, to which both writers and editors adhered. The circumstances moved from hostile to cooperative, from hierarchical to collaborative.
Professor Ramsfield is the author of several legal writing textbooks. The 6th edition of her popular Legal Writing: Getting it Right and Getting it Written is designed as a desktop reference for legal writers.