Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Writing a good statement of the case is a lot like walking a tightrope in the wind. There is such a fine balance involved in providing the court with an understanding of how a case arrived before it, explaining what happened, ethically disclosing all relevant information, and zealously advocating for your position. A statement of the case includes both the procedural history of the case itself, and the factual history forming the basis of the legal issues before the court. And, herein, lies the beginning of the balancing act. I certainly adhere to ideas that we lead with our most affirmative statements, that readers remember the first and last things they read, and that we can minimize the impact of unfavorable facts simply by tucking them in the middle of a sentence or a paragraph. I advocate strongly for the purposeful use of passive voice to further distance yourself from negative facts. I have read briefs where every sentence, and every paragraph, has been drafted with maximum persuasive impact in mind. I certainly applaud the diligence of the authors of these briefs, and understand the desire to take advantage of every opportunity to persuade. I also note that reading such statements of the case can be exhausting.
To me, reading such briefs is like riding a bicycle uphill… all the time. I need to coast from time to time. A well-balanced statement of facts allows for both the emotional appeal, and the opportunity to coast through basic information. For instance, that a complaint was filed or even when it was filed may be presented fairly neutrally without undermining the general persuasiveness of the statement. In addition, I often suggest to my students that they separate descriptions of places, things, and sometimes people, from the story itself. These descriptive paragraphs help to orient the reader and can give the reader a moment to coast before embarking on what will hopefully become a very compelling journey. I believe that such information can be shared in a fairly neutral fashion without undermining persuasive impact.
I also, however, offer words of caution. Do not begin a story, and then abruptly stop the telling in order to describe a person, place, or thing. Just as you have your reader picturing the car stuck on the train track, and hearing the train whistle approaching, do not interrupt the reader in order to describe the town in which the impending collision is likely to occur, or the restaurant in which the lone witness sat. Describe the town first, so the reader better pictures the events happening. Bolster testimony, after you’ve completed the story, by showing the reader what a great vantage point the witness had. By being mindful of where you place the descriptions, you protect the reader from jarring interruptions.
By separating descriptions from the story itself, and by relegating mundane information to its rightful neutral place, you will vary the cadence of story itself. This variety will make your statement of the case more persuasive as you give your reader an opportunity to relax and absorb the impact of the story itself.