Friday, September 14, 2012

Survey reveals what writing skills top partners value

Ross Guberman, author of the highly touted guide to excellent legal writing - Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation's Top Advocates - has published the results of a survey in which he asked "thousands" of law firm partners what writing skills they value in associates. It's part of a new column at Above the Law devoted to career advice for recent grads.  While the survey results are not surprising, it's nice to have oodles of empirical data to support what we've always told students; that success in practice means learning to write clearly and concisely.  To reinforce the point with your students, consider sending them this link like I did today so they can read for themselves what employers say they want.

Here's an excerpt:

. . . . Concision

Partners say they spend too much time cutting clutter and other distractions from associate drafts. Anything that interrupts the message—wordy phrases, jargon, legalese, redundancy, blather, hyperbole—is a candidate for the chopping block.

  • “Get to the point, no ‘throat clearing.’”
  • “[Avoid] unnecessary or inaccurate phrases such as in order, at this point in time or almost unique. Similarly, avoid using words such as utilize when use is sufficient.”

. . . . Clarity

Partners acknowledge that most legal topics are dry and complex, but they still believe associates could do much more to produce clear, active, and direct writing.

  • “Your sentences [should not] average more than 25 words.”
  • “Sound like a human being.”

. . . . Structure

In associate drafts, partners find that the structure often tracks the associate’s research rather than the reader’s likely questions. Many partners long for the days when attorneys mapped out their sections and paragraphs before writing a single word.

  • “Don’t save the punch line for the end. Let your reader know the point you are making up front.”
  • “This is not an academic exercise; keep the consumer’s goal in mind and deliver what it is they need to know efficiently.”

. . . . Using Authorities

These days, nearly all associates find the authorities they need. But partners want associates to do more than just copy or summarize those authorities; they want to know how each authority supports the associate’s points explicitly.

  • “This may be as much an analytical skill as a writing skill, but I have been struck by how often junior associates think sending you five cases is an appropriate response to a research assignment.”
  • “[A]ssociates should work on better integrating their discussions of the facts and the law in briefs, i.e., doing more than just stating the facts and stating the law, but explaining how the facts apply to the law.”


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