Lebovits on Persuasive Legal Writing for Lawyers (Parts I and II)

Gerald Lebovits (St. John’s University – School of Law; Columbia University – Law School) has a great two-part article on legal writing posted on SSRN entitled: “Persuasive Writing for Lawyers – Part I” New York State Bar Association Journal, Vol. 82, No. 2, p. 64, February 2010 and “Persuasive Writing for Lawyers-Part II” New York State Bar Association Journal, Vol. 82, No. 3. p. 64, March/April 2010.

In the first part, the author offers the key elements to successful written advocacy: preparation, organization, honesty, brevity, and editing. As Lebovits notes:

“Winning writing is persuasive writing. For you to persuade, readers, especially judges, must believe that you, as a lawyer, seek the correct result and that you have the arguments, fact, and law to support it. Your job is to help them.

Judges are busy, skeptical professionals. They can spare but limited time to consider your case. Judges must be able to extract the gist of your case quickly. You must write effectively by transmitting only necessary information favoring your position. The way to persuade is to assert your position with accurate, confident, credible, simple, short, and strong arguments supported by good storytelling and citations to authority, all written in clear, concise, precise, and plain English. To persuade, you must make it easy for the court to rule for your client and to want to rule for your client.”

In the second part, the author focuses on the three pillars of effective written advocacy: honesty, brevity and revision.

“To be persuaded, judges must believe in you, not merely in your arguments. Messengers count for as much as the message. Judges will believe in you if you prove your case without distractions and overpromising and if you make them feel smart, not stupid.

Respect the court’s time. Be concise and succinct without sacrificing clarity. Judges will thank you by maintaining interest.

Through the writing process, especially between drafts, continuously edit to improve content, organization, citing, sentence and paragraph structure, and word choice. When you’ve written a final draft, you can start proofreading to spot errors. Don’t rush this process. Your final product will be greatly improved if you devote the time to turn an average product into a worthy one.”

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