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PERSUASIVE BRIEF WRITING 2022 - Style

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PERSUASIVE BRIEF WRITING 2022 - Style

We’ve all long heard about writing practices to avoid, including run-on sentences, excessive passive voice, and nominalization. This webinar not only discusses how those habits can damage briefs, but also explores a key habit brief-writers should embrace: using strong, precise verbs, which are the engine of a persuasive sentence. Panelists also exchange views about finding the most persuasive voice and tone, as well as the right temperature for rhetoric.


Part of the webinar series: PERSUASIVE BRIEF WRITING 2022

See more at https://www.financialpoise.com/webinars/

We’ve all long heard about writing practices to avoid, including run-on sentences, excessive passive voice, and nominalization. This webinar not only discusses how those habits can damage briefs, but also explores a key habit brief-writers should embrace: using strong, precise verbs, which are the engine of a persuasive sentence. Panelists also exchange views about finding the most persuasive voice and tone, as well as the right temperature for rhetoric.


Part of the webinar series: PERSUASIVE BRIEF WRITING 2022

See more at https://www.financialpoise.com/webinars/

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PERSUASIVE BRIEF WRITING 2022 - Style

  1. 1. 2 Practical and entertaining education for attorneys, accountants, business owners and executives, and investors.
  2. 2. Disclaimer The material in this webinar is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal, financial or other professional advice. You should consult with an attorney or other appropriate professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs. While Financial Poise™ takes reasonable steps to ensure that information it publishes is accurate, Financial Poise™ makes no guaranty in this regard. 3
  3. 3. 4 Thank You To Our Sponsors
  4. 4. Meet the Faculty MODERATOR: Robert Michaels - Environmental Law & Policy Center PANELISTS: Hon. Maureen Hannon – Circuit Court of Cook County Rob Kelter – Environmental Law & Policy Center Susan Valentine - Valentine Austriaco & Bueschel, P.C. 5
  5. 5. About This Webinar: Style We’ve all long heard about writing practices to avoid, including run-on sentences, excessive passive voice, and nominalization. This webinar not only discusses how those habits can damage briefs, but also explores a key habit brief-writers should embrace: using strong, precise verbs, which are the engine of a persuasive sentence. Panelists also exchange views about finding the most persuasive voice and tone, as well as the right temperature for rhetoric. 6
  6. 6. About This Series Especially in federal district court, pre-trial litigation occurs almost entirely “on the papers,” with few, if any, oral arguments or courtroom presentations. If litigators want a claim to survive or be dismissed, discovery to be permitted or denied, or evidence to be admitted or barred, they must persuade the court in writing. But mastering the craft of persuasive legal writing can take decades and require shedding ingrained old habits and defying some common expectations. Join a panel including seasoned litigators, two former legal writing instructors, and a sitting judge discuss the structure, substance and style of effective brief-writing. This series will help new and more experienced litigators sharpen a set of crucial skills that can, and should, continue developing throughout their careers. Each Financial Poise Webinar is delivered in Plain English, understandable to investors, business owners, and executives without much background in these areas, yet is of primary value to attorneys, accountants, and other seasoned professionals. Each episode brings you into engaging, sometimes humorous, conversations designed to entertain as it teaches. Each episode in the series is designed to be viewed independently of the other episodes so that participants will enhance their knowledge of this area whether they attend one, some, or all episodes. 7
  7. 7. Episodes in this Series #1: Structure and Organization Premiere date: 9/14/22 #2: Style Premiere date: 10/12/22 8
  8. 8. Episode #2 Style 9
  9. 9. Rewards of Good Writing • Less reader confusion • Less reader frustration • Less reader boredom • Less paper wasted • More accurate analysis • More persuasive arguments
  10. 10. Credibility is King • Avoid hyperbole, snark, cuteness, or sarcasm • Be faithful to record and cited cases – relate your facts to the facts of the case you cite • Limit use of parentheticals and string citations • Don’t hide from opponent’s arguments or cases • Avoid stretching law past breaking point • If you have a helpful Supreme Court Case don’t just list the case in a citation! Say, “The Illinois Supreme Court ruled …”
  11. 11. Writing Sentences that Move • Verb = engine of every sentence • Archetypal sentence: “Bill punched Tom.” • Concrete, readily identifiable subject in close proximity to: • Vivid, precise verb • Use the most specific and definite language you can • Lost? Ask: Who’s doing something? What are they doing? Who or what is it being done to?
  12. 12. 3 Often (But Not Always) Deadly Sins
  13. 13. Sin 1: Passive Voice • Passive v. active voice: is the sentence subject performing the verb/doing something? If yes, active. • Examples: ✓ Passive: “Under the contract, the parties were required to submit to arbitration.” ✓ Active: “The contract required the parties to arbitrate their dispute.” ✓ Passive: “The standard for review was established in Smith v. Jones.” ✓ Active: “The Illinois Commerce Commission established the standard for review in Smith v. Jones”
  14. 14. Sin 1: Passive Voice (cont’d) • Why avoid passive voice? ✓ Far less concise than active voice ✓ Adds needless (and weak) words like “was,” “were,” and “is” ✓ Often unclear about who did what • Reasons to use passive voice ✓ “Doer” is unknown (e.g., “The laptop was stolen.”) ✓ To avoid responsibility (e.g., “Although the deadline was missed, Plaintiff’s petition was still filed.”)
  15. 15. Sin 2: Nominalization • Nominalization = using a noun created from a verb + a helper verb instead of verb itself • Examples: ✓ The parties held discussions about how to proceed. ✓ The court’s holding was that one phone call did not establish personal jurisdiction. ✓ Defendant made an agreement to stop using the trademark. • Why avoid it? ✓ Like passive voice, it adds words, weakens sentences, and confuses readers
  16. 16. Sin 2: Nominalization (cont’d) Fix it by finding and using the real verb: ✓ No: The parties held discussions about how to proceed. ✓ Yes: The parties discussed how to proceed. ✓ No: The court’s holding was that one phone call did not establish personal jurisdiction. ✓ Yes: The court held that one phone call did not establish personal jurisdiction. ✓ No: Defendant made an agreement to stop using the trademark. ✓ Yes: Defendant agreed to stop using the trademark.
  17. 17. Sin 3: Abstract Sentence Subjects • Using abstract concepts as sentence subjects instead of concrete subjects, like people or institutional actors • Often goes accompanied by passive voice and/or nominalization • Examples: • The principle that __________is well-established in the caselaw. • The requirement to accommodate students is imposed by the regulation. • A determination that no discrimination occurred was contained in the letter dated May 1, 2020.
  18. 18. Sin 3: Abstract Sentence Subjects (cont’d) Fix by identifying the concrete actor and making them/it the subject ✓ No: The principle that __________is well-established in the caselaw. ✓ Yes: Courts routinely hold that ____________. ✓ No: The requirement to accommodate students is imposed by the regulation. ✓ Yes: The regulation requires schools to accommodate students ✓ No: A determination that no discrimination occurred was contained in the letter dated May 1, 2020. ✓ Yes: The letter dated May 1, 2020 determined that ______ did not discriminate.
  19. 19. A Very Sinful Sentence “For example, to ensure numeric nutrient criteria are established by the states, an indication that if a state does not take action by a date certain that EPA will use its authority to set state water quality standards under CWA Section 303(c)(4)(B) will be the undesirable result may instigate the desired state-level action.” This sentence showcases everything a writer could do wrong.
  20. 20. Sins Explained “For example, to ensure numeric nutrient criteria are established by the states, an indication that if a state does not take action by a date certain that EPA will use its authority to set state water quality standards under CWA Section 303(c)(4)(B) will be the undesirable result may instigate the desired state-level action.” Corrected: For example, to encourage states to set numeric nutrient criteria, EPA should state that it will set those standards itself under CWA Section 303(c)(4)(B) if states fail to do so by the agency’s deadline.
  21. 21. Otherwise Avoid Clutter • Avoid fancy words (e.g., use “avoid” instead of “eschew,” “forgo,” or “abjure”) • (e.g. use “about” instead of “regarding,” “concerning,” or “with regard to.”) • Avoid “the fact that” (“that” usually suffices) and “the question of whether” (“whether” typically suffices) • Use positive instead of negative form (“Plaintiff often did not pay the required installments” should be “Plaintiff missed __ payments”) • Use bulleted lists where multiple examples support a single point
  22. 22. A Word About Paragraphs • Don’t make them too long (rarely more than half a page) • Use logical breaks • Vary sentence structure (e.g., avoid “On March 22, 2018, …. On April 8, 2018, …. Etc.”) • Relatedly, use frequent headings and sub-headings (no more than 3-4 pages without a heading or sub-heading)
  23. 23. Rules to Follow • Use parallel structure – presenting lists or other phrases with similar content or function using the same tense and other outward form ✓ No: Plaintiff alleged that defendant failed to return his phone calls, ignored his emails, and was not present for their scheduled meeting. ✓ Yes: Plaintiff alleged that defendant failed to return his phone calls, ignored his emails, and missed their scheduled meeting. • Use one space after period • Place footnote calls after/outside sentence-ending punctuation • Generally use serial a/k/a Oxford comma to avoid confusion • Use semi-colons between longer (more than 2-3 word) list items
  24. 24. Rules You Can Break - Sometimes • Don’t split infinitives (fine so long as it sounds natural - e.g., “The University plans to more than double the number of counselors.”) • Don’t use contractions (ok at times unless you know judge doesn’t like them) • Don’t start sentences with “and” or “but” (fine and in some cases the best move) • Don’t end sentences with prepositions (fine so long as it sounds natural - e.g., “Plaintiff was the third person they spoke to.”)
  25. 25. Visuals • Limit bolding, italicizing, or underlining text for emphasis; you don’t want to be “scream-y.” • Freely use bulleted lists • Don’t make footnotes too small. Use footnotes judiciously – they interrupt the reader. • For longer documents, consider a serif font like Century Schoolbook; MUCH easier on the eyes (some federal appeals courts require it)
  26. 26. Best Practices • Re-read and revise as much as time and budget allows • Get a second set of eyes • Consider printing whole document and laying all pages (at least of each section) on table – lets you see the big picture • Read sentences out loud to ensure proper rhythm and flow • Consider deleting your favorite sentence: it may be too cute or clever
  27. 27. About the Faculty 28
  28. 28. About The Faculty Robert Michaels - rmichaels@elpc.org Rob Michaels is a Senior Attorney working to protect clean water, wildlife, biodiversity and forests in the Midwest. Mr. Michaels is an experienced plaintiffs-side litigation attorney with 30 years of federal court complex litigation experience as a Partner at the Robertson, Curley & Clayton law firm and the Goldstein & McClintock law firm. He previously was a Staff Attorney and Project Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center; University of Chicago Law School Bigelow Fellow; and Associate at the Mayer Brown & Platt law firm following a federal court clerkship with Judge Robert Hall (N.D. Ga.). 29
  29. 29. About The Faculty Hon. Maureen Hannon Judge Maureen O. Hannon was elected as a Cook County Circuit Court Judge and sworn in December 2016. She currently sits in the County Division where she hears real estate tax matters, election law, adoption, and mental health cases. Prior to this assignment, she was assigned to the municipal division hearing contract disputes, evictions, and traffic cases. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Hannon was a practicing attorney for over 25 years with a wide breadth of experience. In addition to 5 years in private practice, she was a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney in the Civil Actions Bureau for 20 years. Judge Hannon has practiced in federal court and most of the divisions of the Circuit Court of Cook County including chancery, probate, county, law, and the municipal division and as well as defended the County from constitutional claims in litigation in federal court. When she left the Office of the State’s Attorney, she was the Supervisor of the Conflicts Counsel Unit. 30
  30. 30. About The Faculty Robert Kelter - RKelter@elpc.org Robert Kelter is a senior attorney at ELPC, leading the Energy Efficiency Program. Rob advocates for stronger energy efficiency programs and implementation strategies in the Midwest and on national policies. He is an experienced energy and public utilities regulatory attorney, who served as the litigation director of the Illinois Citizens Utility Board handling a wide array of electricity and natural gas rate and rulemaking cases and issues. Before that, he worked at Environmental Action and the Office of the People’s Counsel in Washington, D.C. 31
  31. 31. About The Faculty Susan Valentine - svalentine@vablawfirm.com Susan Valentine is a founding partner of Valentine Austriaco & Bueschel, P.C. For more than 30 years, Susan has handled disputes, and when necessary, actively litigated a wide range of matters. From 1997- 2000, she served on the full-time faculty of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, teaching Professional Responsibility and Legal Research and Writing and serving as the Faculty Adviser to the Moot Court Honor Society. Susan advises clients on a variety of sensitive business issues, and her clients appreciate her practical, timely, and cost-effective approach to their issues. She has extensive experience litigating disputes that involve insured depository institutions and in representing business entities in commercial matters, ranging from breach-of-contract issues to internal investigations that involve fraud and other misconduct. She has also represented receivers, liquidators, and trustees in the investigation and litigation of matters involving professional liability, contracts, fidelity bonds, insurance, and reinsurance. 32
  32. 32. Questions or Comments? If you have any questions about this webinar that you did not get to ask during the live premiere, or if you are watching this webinar On Demand, please do not hesitate to email us at info@financialpoise.com with any questions or comments you may have. Please include the name of the webinar in your email and we will do our best to provide a timely response. IMPORTANT NOTE: The material in this presentation is for general educational purposes only. It has been prepared primarily for attorneys and accountants for use in the pursuit of their continuing legal education and continuing professional education. 33
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  34. 34. About Financial Poise 36 Financial Poise™ has one mission: to provide reliable plain English business, financial, and legal education to individual investors, entrepreneurs, business owners and executives. Visit us at www.financialpoise.com Our free weekly newsletter, Financial Poise Weekly, updates you on new articles published on our website and Upcoming Webinars you may be interested in. To join our email list, please visit: https://www.financialpoise.com/subscribe/

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