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Improving Your Legal Writing

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Improving Your Legal Writing

As lawyers, most of us spend our share of time writing – e-mails, letters, memos, motions, briefs. No matter how much we write or how good our writing is, we can always improve. In this one hour program, we will discuss the different ways that lawyers and law firms can improve their overall writing styles and habits.

Transcript

Thanks so much for joining me today. My name is Francisco Ramos, I go by Frank. And today we'll be talking about how to improve your legal writing. Before we jump into this, let's think about how writing and how we communicate has evolved over the last so many years. There was a time where people just wrote very long letters to each other before computers and before all the technology we have. But, these days, we are very much tied to our phones. And think about how often in a given day you interact with your own phone in terms of getting emails, responding, text messages, instant messages, messages vis-a-vis various platforms, social media, how many notices you get for news and so forth. We are on our phone and looking at it perpetually throughout the day. In order to get our attention, what people have done is to write in shorter sentences, use more direct words, more verbiage, and trying to get our attention as immediately as possible. It's called the hook. And, in our society, you basically have two, maybe three seconds to hook somebody into what you're saying. And that has affected writing across the board, whether it is in novels. You notice novels have gotten a lot shorter. There's these things called flash fiction where they're writing stories in just a few hundred words. Poetry's become very popular because, of course, poetry is much more short. It's easier to read. You can read a poem in just maybe 15 or 20 seconds. And so, you see a lot of poetry collections out there. You don't see that many long-form articles anymore. And, of course, we don't really have newspapers in the traditional sense. Everything is pretty much virtual or online, and people get our attentions more through visuals. That's become more important. And audio and videos have also become much more important. So, legal writing, to some degree, has to reflect all that. It has to reflect the reality we all find ourselves, and one where we're easily distracted and distractable in an area that we're getting and buying and keeping our attention is a challenge. And legal writing is no different. Whether you're writing for a judge, whether you're writing for opposing counsel, your client, it is very important to get to the point, get to it quickly and get in and get out. And what I teach, and just so you have a little background on me, I kind of just jumped right into the topic again, Frank Ramos, I'm an attorney in Miami. I work at a firm called Clarke Silverglate. I've been speaking and writing and communicating a lot about writing and communications over the years. I've written over 20 books, over 400 articles, and so I feel like I know a thing or two about writing. And if you ever want to download for free, most of my books, all but one are free. You can go to my website miamimentor.com or you can follow me on LinkedIn under Frank Ramos, and, under publications, you'll find books. And the books I've written are directed to lawyers, including young lawyers. And they address everything from legal writing to trial tactics to running your own firm and everything in between, including firm management and so forth. But in the process of writing so much and in the process of communicating so much through the written word, I've learned a few things along the way. And what I've learned is that it is really important to immediately spell out for the reader the point you're trying to make and to do it as forcefully as possible. And lawyers are known for our legalese. We're known for not always taking a position, always hemming and hawing. And it is important to avoid all of that. So, I'm gonna actually start my PowerPoint. You can see it is improving your legal writing, and we're gonna go into our introduction. And no matter what type of practice you do, even if you are a trial lawyer, you spend a lot of time writing. Think about all the emails you send and receive, the correspondence you send out, memos to file, the motions and briefs we file. Writing is integral to our practice and it's important to really develop a good writing style. And it's important to understand the fundamentals going just beyond grammar to understanding how to communicate. And what I recommend, and something I started doing about a year and a half ago, is I downloaded two platforms onto my computers and I use them whenever I write an email or prepare a document or sending sort of motion or memo out. One is called Grammarly, which I highly recommend for you. It goes beyond just basic grammar. I know that whatever platform you use, Word or anything else, there is some sort of grammar check. It's okay, I find it fairly rudimentary. It has a lot of basic information. I find Grammarly, which I believe is at a good price point, especially, if you get the yearly subscription, to be much, much better. I found that my writing's become that much more clear and concise using that. And I've been writing, now, I've been practicing for about 25 years, like I said, I've written lots of books and articles and I felt like Grammarly has brought my writing to the next level. It goes beyond the basic grammar issues. And it goes into making sure you're writing in a direct way, that you're using active verbs. You're not using the passive voice, that sentences are clear. And what's interesting about Grammarly and so important to what I'm talking to you about today is the conciseness of our language. Grammarly does, and what you should be doing is finding a way to excise words and phrases, even whole sentences and sometimes paragraphs, to get to your point. I think a lot of us suffer from when we were young, we had to reach certain word counts. We had to write those papers, had to be at least a 1,000 words or 5,000 words. And so, we were always trying to find ways to expand something because writing in a very direct way would actually make us do more work. And so, we use a lot more adverbs and adjectives. We find ways to stretch things out. And we are no longer in that academic world. We're trying to meet a certain word count. If you can make a point using 10 words, you should use 10 words. If you can use five, you can use five. It reminds me of that game show "Name that Tune", and I can name that tune in five notes and three notes and two notes. If you can get your point across in just a handful of words, then do that. And what I do whenever I communicate is that I, basically, set out what I wanna do at the very front, and then I provide a basis for it. And I do that, whether I do it in an email, in a motion or whatever it is, but in the first sentence, you know exactly the point of what I'm trying to say. And then I support it and then I move on. And that's really what we're gonna be teaching and studying today about how to make your writing very simple. And I know it seems odd, again, we do a lot of lawyer speak, but keep your writing simple, direct and plain. And what I tell people is that they're really two main types of words in the communications. There's verbs and then they're nouns and then everything else kind of comes at the end. If you think of your basic sentence, your most fundamental sentence, most direct sentence is noun-verb-object, noun-verb-object. And if you keep that in the back of your mind, when you do it that way, you'll find that you're constantly using the active voice. And so much purpose, it's very important to use the active voice in most every sentence you use. When you use the passive voice, you're actually writing longer sentences. You're writing a lot more transitional phrases, and you're not really getting to the point. And there are times when the passive voice is appropriate 'cause you're actually trying to hide from the reader or the writer, whoever is out there, who's doing the action. Maybe you don't really wanna admit someone did that. And so, you're talking about it in a passive voice. But it is very important to use your clauses, phrases, and words. And that often comes from using the active voice. I found in having reviewed my own writing, having reviewed the writing of many others who work with me and having edited a number of books, in addition to writing, I've edited maybe a half dozen books over the years for various bar associations, and I think the biggest problem I see is people who use a lot of is's and was, and words and don't do noun-verb, noun-verb, noun-verb. This is the person doing the action. This is the action taking place. And then you have the rest of your sentence. And, obviously, you wanna change up the style of your sentences. You don't want all the sentences to sound like you're reading from a Dr. Seuss book for a six-year-old. But that should be your default. Your default should be noun-verb-object. Your default should be the active voice. Shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, shorter motions, shorter emails. We're constantly dealing with people who have shorter attention spans. Let's keep that as the paradigm and the prism through which we talk about this today. Everybody has shorter attention spans. Think about how often you look at your phone and how much time or attention you give to something when you get a text message. How long does it take you to read it? When you get a notification for an article, what type of article do you read, don't you read? What are the words that are getting your attention? Hundreds and thousands of people are vying for attention every day through Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram, through the various news agencies, our friends, through direct messages and text messages, the hundreds of emails, I get about 300 emails a day, by the way. Imagine how you have to filter that out in order to just keep your own sanity and making sure that you are doing what you're doing. And also think about how we multitask and how invariably we're all multitasking, how things are constantly vying for our attention. And think about when you send an email to a client, for example and how much time he or she may have to read it. We represent a lot of companies. We represent insurance companies and self-insured and other entities. And the people we deal with handle lots of litigation matters for their respective companies. And they do not want tomes. They do not want long emails. They want you to get to the point immediately. They want you to make your point and then move on. And I think what we do particularly well is that, we as a firm, and individually as our attorneys, is that we inform clients, we inform opposing counsel. We inform witnesses exactly the point of our message, and we move on. We don't have to, it's very long. We don't have to make long digressions, provide a lot of examples. We just get to the point. And so, we avoid big words. We don't use complex words. We don't use filler words. We don't use throat-clearing words. We're always finding a way to make whatever sentence we wrote shorter, whatever paragraph we use shorter, whatever big word we can make smaller. We're not trying to impress anybody with our vocabulary. We're not trying to impress anybody with law and complex sentences. We understand that our readers, and that doesn't matter whether it's a federal or state judge or a client, whoever it may be, wants you to tell them immediately and to the point what you're trying to say. And so that's so much of what we do. And there's those different types of writing. A lot of what we'll be writing is persuasive writing. And that's when we file a motion with the court or when we're trying to send a letter to opposing counsel and get him or her to agree with our position. And so, we focus on strong arguments. Sometimes, you may have 20 arguments, but really four or five are really the only ones that hold water. And so, I would always focus on strong arguments. And whenever I write, I always work through a theme. When I get a new matter, and this may not be directly related to writing, but this is an important thing to look at when you're considering your writing, is that every case you have should have a theme you develop very early on in the case, a theme and a theory. What is your theory of the case and what is your theme? The theme that you're going to present to the ultimate fact-finder, whether it is a bench trial or a jury trial to the judge or to the jury, how are you going to present your case? And you need to have a prism, i.e., a theme through which everything filters through. And the earlier you have the theme in your case developed, then the easier it is to communicate everything vis-a-vis that theme. Now, themes evolve, they change. Sometimes, you'll try out a theme and it may not work for you, but it is important to think through, develop and plan on your themes early on in the case and have your writings reflect your themes. And so much of thematic elements are the use of catchphrases, or sometimes they're cliches or sometimes they're bullet points. Sometimes, they're different ways of expressing it. But what is the word or words that you're going to use, a phrase or clause that is going to reverberate throughout your case so that the reader hangs onto that, or the audience. Again, so much about writing is not only thinking about how someone reads it, but how it sounds. And often there is a thin line between what we say on a written piece of paper and what we argue to the judge. And I believe, personally, and this is my own personal style, is that I write the way I speak and I speak the way I write. I don't really draw a line of demarcation between the two. I try not to be informal in my writing, but I try to be direct and I try to communicate in such a way that you can almost use it as if it was a script to a presentation or an argument you'd make to the judge. That's my personal style. I found that it's worked for me. You may think you need to do it a little bit differently, but think through it that way. Think about what are you gonna, ultimately, say to the judge? Or what are you gonna say to your client when you pick up the phone, you talk to them or you sit across from them? And I want to have my writing reflect that and think about that. And so, I try to use commonsense whatever it is. And the reason I use commonsense is that if you do a lot of litigation the way I do, and you try cases the way we do as a firm, one of the jury instructions invariably is a commonsense jury instruction. The jury is asked to use their commonsense to evaluate the evidence in your case. And so early on, I try, when I develop my theme, and I think through my case and my theory, I say, okay, what makes sense in this case? What is the common fact-finder, whether it's the judge or the jury, going to consider and evaluate when they are thinking about this case, when they're weighing the evidence, when they're weighing credibility, what makes sense? And when I make arguments in my writing, I try to rely on commonsense. Obviously, I have the filtered law, what the cases say, but I always try to do it through that spectrum. And so, I try to rely on arguments that take into account the whole case, all the facts in the law. And that's one way of filtering out arguments. Is this an overlapping or a very broad-based argument I can make? Or is this something that is much more narrow? I also try to think through what the other arguments are, play devil advocate with myself. And I think through, well, what is the other side going to argue? And I think through that, I put myself in their shoes. I think through, okay, I think they're gonna argue this or that. They're gonna make this discussion or that discussion, or raise this point or that point. I wanna get in front of them. I wanna get ahead of them. I want to address it and preempt them. I don't oversell myself. I know what the facts and law are, and I understand that I'm gonna give the judge and the fact-finder the benefit of the doubt. I assume they're gonna flesh out the issues. And so, I don't wanna lose credibility, so I'm not gonna oversell my hand. And if I'm gonna make any factual assertions, whether it's in a letter or in an email to opposing counsel, to the client, or if I'm gonna make, certainly, any factual assertions to the tribunal, to the court, I'm gonna make sure that I have facts to support it. I'm not gonna just make some allegation or make some argument and hope that the facts kind of coalesce behind it. I'm gonna make sure I have all my ducks in a row and that I know what I'm saying before I go into that. And when you're looking at the case law and you're evaluating what the cases say, don't oversell your hand and don't misinterpret or go beyond what the cases say. That's not your position. At the end of the day, you don't make the facts, you don't make the law. If you've sat down with your client and done a thorough and exhaustive evaluation of the case, you've pointed out to them where your strengths are, when their weaknesses are, the likelihood of winning, and under what terms you defined a win that both sides, that you agree and your client agrees with and you have a general sense of the trajectory of the case. And, in the process of doing that, not only do you have ethical obligations, professional obligations, but you also have a reputation to uphold. And you also want to not undermine your credibility with the judge or with anybody else. And so, you're very careful to know what parameters you have about the facts and the law. And you can kind of walk it up to the line, but you don't go beyond that. You don't push beyond the natural boundaries. And, again, going back to what the commonsense will suggest or argue, you don't want to push too far behind that because, if you do, then you're gonna lose credibility. So much of what we do, by the way, is based on credibility. And, ultimately, in any case, there are two issues. There are the evidence in terms of what they support and what they don't support, and the conduits of that evidence, typically, witnesses and whether they're credible or not. And every time a fact-finder is looking at what you're saying or arguing, they're asking two questions. Do you know, are there facts to support that position? And do I find that position and the person conveying that position credible? And credibility is key. If the judge believes you and trusts you, if the jury trusts and believes you, you are well on your way of establishing your presence and your position in front of the fact-finder. And when you ask for too much, when you push too much, when you go beyond the realm or the perimeter of what you're trying to say, that's where you can get into trouble. So that was persuasive writing. Then there's inspirational writing. Sometimes, and this can be in front of a jury, when you're trying to inspire a jury, when you're trying to lead a team, when you're involved in a bar association, when you're leading a non-profit, when you're writing an arc or a book, maybe you're doing something that's non-fiction and you're trying to create something inspirational, again, you wanna have a theme and you want to build your writing around it. The theme is sort of the foundation. It is the skeleton. It is the essence from which everything else emanates, the nucleus, really, of your writing. And I believe, again, as I mentioned earlier, in catchphrases or some sort of term of art that you can use that sum up your inspiration or motivational message. And if you think about motivational speakers, and I'm sure we've all seen videos online, we've seen presentations, we've probably been to talks if we've worked at a company or belonged to a trade association, and you think of the big names out there who do motivational speaking and what you remember from them is that, generally, there's a phrase or two or a handful of them that you will walk away from it. You will remember those phrases. One, because they capture the essence of the message. They're used and relied upon repeatedly and they become ingrained in your thinking about the matter as a whole. And so, when it comes to inspirational writing, you should brainstorm and think through what are sort of the catchphrases, the cliches, if you want. The sound bites is actually a good approach to what you're trying to say. And always use that as sort of something you come back to. That's sort of the hook, if you will, that you get people to come back. I mentioned earlier you need a hook. You have about two to three seconds to hook somebody and bring them into what you're saying that is specifically or especially true for inspirational writing. And when I do writing, I kind of, again, think about it in sort of a speech, can this be read to an audience and will it be read in such a way to hold their attention? And so, things that I'm thinking of are more, almost like things you would think about in music or when you're giving a speech in terms of cadence, diction and rhythm and pacing. I am trying to write in such a way that there's almost like a certain pattern to it. There's a certain way or messaging behind it and almost a poetry to it to be honest. It is a way of communicating where people kind of get caught up. You start slow, you build to a crescendo, you keep building, you move back, keep moving it up. And it's like a song or a movement that's kind of approaching its climax. You are starting slow. You are building, building, building. You hit the high point of your writing and then it tapers off a little bit. And maybe you have several high points in your writing. Almost like when you think of a novel where you have several acts, and each act, there is some resolution to some conflict. And each time you get into the next act, the conflict is larger. The stakes are higher and the resolution is more satisfying. And that's kind of how you wanna consider writing. And this is true whether it's short-form or long-form, whether you're trying to inspire somebody through an email or a text message, which does happen these days or through a post, for example. If a lot of you are writing on social media, and all of us are doing a lot more of that these days, a lot of the posts that are coming out there are ones where we're trying to inspire people and trying to communicate our message in a way to give an inspirational message. I'm thinking about LinkedIn. I'm thinking about Facebook. even to some degree Instagram or Twitter. There are a lot of people in that space, a lot of lawyers in that space who are making a name for themselves or branding themselves or getting business by doing inspirational work. If you follow me on LinkedIn, and you're more than welcome to, I have about 63,000 followers or so. You'll find that my messaging is a mix of advice, a lot of it geared toward younger lawyers. It's a lot of litigation practice skills, and a lot of it is motivation or inspiration directed to lawyers. The job we do is tough. It has its challenges. It's tough to have work-life balance as a profession. We have one of the highest suicide rates, depression rates, divorce rates, bankruptcy rates. And so, there's a lot of pressure on us. And so, I try to do a lot of inspirational writing. And if you read some of my posts, they're short. They're to the point. They do have a certain cadence and rhythm to it and they do build up to something to a crescendo and then they taper off. And I think that's a good way of doing it. And inspiration writing is not only just to inspire or motivate somebody, you're giving somebody real advice. You're giving them at least one takeaway, so that you leave them smarter and better informed and empowered than they did before they read your piece. And so that's really important when you are communicating with somebody through inspirational writing, not only are you motivating them, but you're giving them life advice that they can take with them. Let's talk about emails. 'Cause there's so much of what we do is vis-a-vis emails and actually not just emails but text messages. More and more, I'm communicating with clients and opposing counsel through text messages. 'Cause that's just the way we're communicating. Sometimes, I'll do that through instant messaging or some other platform. And what's interesting about these types of communications is actually think, traditionally, we did long-form letters. We would take a letter, we would either dictate it or type it up. We would write it, put it in an envelope, put a address, stamp it, send it out. It would take three or four days to get to where it was going. And then maybe that person would get the letter, they would write it, do the same thing. And so, you would have these correspondences going back and forth to each other. And there'd be a week, maybe two weeks between communications. And it was interesting because we all had a lot of time to think about it and reflect upon it. And I think maybe there's some value in that. So, we weren't always jumping the gun or trying to immediately react to things and we had time to write it, think about it, send it out and ponder it a little bit. Those days are over. Even when we write letters these days, we variably send them by email, they'll be an attachment. Please find my correspondence attached. And often we just bypass that all together and just go straight to the email. And so, what are some of the rules of the road when it comes to emails? Well, your subject line should, obviously, let the reader know the content. You wanna keep your email as short, as succinct as possible. I think emails wanna be short. I think that's why some people have now opted for text messages because text messages invariably are short. And, sometimes, clients just wanna text you 'cause they hope you'll get to the point that much more quickly. And there's also an informality to it, which you have to kind of be conscious and aware of. And when you're making your emails, make sure that you are proofreading them and enclosing the right attachments. How often have you seen an email come through your side and says, attached, it's not attached. You're blind-copying the right people. Now, I think to circle back to the point I made earlier, I talked about two platforms and I kind of talked about one. I talked about Grammarly. I never actually mentioned the second one. Grammarly, again, is just that. I use it for my emails as well. It brought this back to my memory is that when I prepare an email, I look at Grammarly and, usually, I'll write something and it may be a paragraph long. And by the time I'm done with Grammarly, it's only two sentences long, that Grammarly has made me get rid of a lot of the excess phrases and a lot of things that didn't really need to be there that I thought needed for clarity, can also make things more unclear and more clunky. And the other platform I use, which I strongly recommend, is BriefCatch. It is a great, great program for any of you who are writing memos of law or motions or so forth. It has a very strong grammar aspect as well as Grammarly. I think they actually complement each other pretty well. And, often, I run both platforms or programs when I'm writing anything in long-form. It does really good in terms of citations, how to cite them, in what order, site cases, how to use the right blue book. It is a great, great platform. It's, basically, a subscription-based thing. So, it's constantly being updated and I find it to be extraordinarily useful whenever I'm doing any cuts. A lot of time, makes things a lot more efficient. We're all busier these days. I can get things done more quickly as opposed to going through a blue book, even if it's, you know, these days you find a blue book online. I just find that to be a much better resource. And so, if I have an email where I'm referencing a lot of case law, and I do that sometimes, I'll not only run it through Grammarly, I'll also run it through BriefCatch. Both platforms can be subscribed to on a monthly or yearly basis. I suggest you do it on a yearly basis. And so, now we're gonna be discussing letters. Again, letters have become less common. We've moved from letters to doing emails. And I think they, typically, are more formal. In letters, you don't, typically, use contractions. You don't, typically, use more common phrases or cliches. And so, your diction and your tone and your messaging have to reflect that. It's tempting to write long letters. No one wants to read them. Again, as with emails, you're trying to get to the point. Again, they're more formal, they may be longer. But you're trying to always think to yourself and ask yourself, how I can make this more concise and more direct? And letters, kinda like motions, they have a beginning, middle and an end. State what you're going to say, say it and then conclude. Usually, letters are a good way where you use bullet points, where sometimes you use illustrations, maybe you have a link to a video or an audio file. Often, I use letters for long-form evaluation letters to clients. I have a mediation coming up and we have to evaluate both the liability and the damages, evaluate the potential jury verdicts. There's some animations involved. There's some photos involved. It's a auto-accident case where each side has a very distinct opinion as to how the accident occurred. And so, a letter is a good way of providing a detailed summary of a matter to your clients, to the mediators, maybe to opposing counsel. So, when you're doing a letter, since it is longer and you're trying to get people's attention and you're very much trying to get their visual and how they're seeing things, use a lot of headings and subheadings to direct the reader on a given page. I may have several headings or subheadings. Again, each of the specific topics and subtopics are brief, to the point. I get in and I get out and I use the headings and subheadings to direct the reader through the content of the letter. Some letters are a few pages, some letters are much longer. The longer your letter, the more cues you have to give the reader to keep them focused and give them their attention. And, sometimes, what you'll find is that if you have a particularly long letter, you have to spell out a lot of issues and you have a client trying to evaluate this, especially, if you're on the defense side of a matter or you're representing a corporation, they're looking, you know, different people in the organization are looking to answers different questions. And in your letter you may have addressed, maybe there are 10 points, you've addressed all 10 points. And maybe there is some, again, on the other side who needs to look at all 10 points. But there are others who only wanna look at four or five points. And so, by doing a letter that is easily to look at, just by through headers and subheaders, you've made it a lot easier for the reader. And, sometimes, you'll have letters that have hyperlinks. You have letters that have links to drop files where they can look at videos. And these are all sort of things that we wouldn't have done 20 years ago and they become very important now. Now, moving from letters to personal notes. I believe that every lawyer should have their own personal stationary. And I have some, and every lawyer at our firm has some, and I'm a strong believer that we don't write enough notes. There's a time where that's how we all communicated with one another. Think about the letters that are written between John Adams and his wife, Abigail, and write these long-form letters during the Revolutionary War. They're available online if you wanna really read them. And they go on for pages. And I'm 51 years old, I remember corresponding to people through pen pals when I was much younger. And a lot of us have moved away from personal notes. And think about when you receive, if you do, a personal note, whether it's during the holidays or during the year, maybe you spoke or you wrote somebody, did someone a favor, and they send you a thank you note and how warming and touching it is. And some of us keep a lot of those letters months or even years, sometimes decades after we receive them. And I know lawyers and other professionals who have boxes of personal notes that they've received throughout the year. So, they have a really strong impact. And so, I'd strongly recommend that you get into the habit of writing handwritten notes. I would skip the Hallmark cards. I would skip the holiday cards. I would get yourself a nice pen, some nice correspondence, some nice letterhead. You can get it personalized. It's not that it's expensive these days. You can order it online. You can format it or create it, however you want it. And you have it in a box in a drawer, which I do, down to the right side of my desk here in front of my computer. And I get into the habit of writing a couple of personal notes every week. There was a book, the name escapes me right now that was written maybe 10 or 15 years ago. It was written by a lawyer, coincidentally. And he was in a point in his life where things weren't going particularly well. His business was failing. His marriage was failing. His relationships were failing. And he got this idea that he was gonna write a personal note each day thanking somebody in his life for something. And starting January one, I believe, right after the holidays, he started writing personal notes. It was to friends or colleagues or teachers or former clients or whatever it is. And he found it changed so much in his life. One, it changed his own attitude toward life. 'Cause it made him much more gracious. It was a real sense of gratitude that he had, an authentic sense of gratitude. And, ultimately, people really enjoyed his notes. Man, he reconnected with a lot of former colleagues and clients. He started getting work from that of all things. And that really wasn't his intention. His intention was that he just wanted, like he was in a funk and he wanted to write letters and he thought this would help him. And, ultimately, he did, and he ended up writing a book about it. And he's become a public speaker about, I think it was called "The Year in Gratitude" or something, along those lines. And never underestimate or underappreciate the power of a handwritten note. Now, getting into pleadings. And a pleading, we're talking about complaints and answers and so forth. You know, tell your story through your pleadings. So often we think it's just certain facts from certain causes of action. But use it as a way to focus on the facts and convey them in a compelling way. You put your client in the shoes of protagonist. The opposing party is an antagonist, and you tell your client's story through her prism. It's very much storytelling through pleadings. And I know we think, oh, a complaint, it's boring. It's we're talking about jurisdiction and then we talk about jurors and Lawrence Ware. And then these are the facts and these are the causes of action. And we repeat and reiterate the prior causes or allegations and, granted, I have very few complaints I've read that really kind of capture my attention. But you don't wanna be in that group. You wanna be in the group that does capture your attention. Now, again, you don't wanna overstate the facts. You have to understand and really appreciate what the facts are to understand how they align with the causes of actions or affirmative defenses and make sure you stay within that boundary. And you may want to look at other pleadings out there. These days everything is in the public domain. You can find it online. You can find it through Westlaw or Lexus and see how other people have made or presented their facts that are similar to yours. And then motions are very similar. Motions, you start with a strong introduction. A lot of people think introduction is nothing more than, these are the parties, and I'm arguing this motion. And then they jump right into the procedural history. The introduction is sort of a punch to the jaw as to why you win that motion. Usually, you have to be focused on a theme. You may use a catchphrase or a clause or some sort of even cliche. And then you get into the procedural history, the facts, discussion and the conclusion. But the introduction is the sort of anchor which you tie down the rest of your motion and it's, really, you know, the gun goes off. And the introduction is your way of jumping out and getting your point across. And with long-inform letters and your motions can go 10, 15, 20-plus pages. You use a lot of headings and subheadings. You're trying to make it easy for the reader, usually the judge to figure out where you're going. And, again, I generally start with my strongest arguments and then I go into my weaker ones. Another thing that you'll start doing, you'll find opportunities for, is about writing articles. And I, typically, tell people, write about what they know. Start with the practice area you're in. Maybe it is how to do cybersecurity. Maybe it's how to do negligence security. Maybe it's how to do tax. Whatever it is, write about what you know. Start with the hook. Again, we're trying to get the person's attention. You have two or three seconds as they're reading that first paragraph. They want to start, often people start with a personal anecdote. Maybe start with a story, quote, or you just jump into the theme, but you wanna grab the reader's attention. You wanna kind of grab them by the scruff of their neck and hold onto them. Again, I use headings and subheadings and I don't make myself the story. I don't talk about myself. I don't go on and on about myself. The reader doesn't care about me and my personal life. They are reading my article to get something of value for them. So, I find I put the reader in my shoes, put the reader in the crux of the article I'm writing. And so, by the end of finishing the article, they feel that they've learned and gotten something. And understand what readers are doing. Think about yourself and the articles you read and why you read them. And you do that 'cause you wanna learn something. You wanna improve yourself. You wanna make yourself better in the process. And so, I try to make sure that the reader is better educated, more informed, or has learned something at the end of my article that they didn't know at the beginning. And that's my way. I approach, the approach about writing articles and I try to keep my articles short. I generally, when I started publishing, I've written over 400 articles, I started with smaller publications that were looking for more copy. I found out it was a good way to cut my teeth. A lot of my early articles are on a whole host of variety of issues. But I was writing for parenting magazines. I was writing for business magazines. I was writing for local newspapers. And, by the way, the thing with writing, writing books, writing articles, even when it comes to public speaking, you're gonna suck at first. You're gonna suck a lot at first. And you're gonna write and you're gonna keep writing. Keep writing, at some point, you're gonna get your sea legs and you're gonna do much better. But understand that your first few articles, maybe even your first book, your first few presentations aren't gonna be great. They're gonna be average. Some of them may not be good at all. And you learn from them, you learn from them. And the people who I see that are great writers, at some point, were abysmal writers. People who are great speakers sucked at speaking, at some point, but they didn't stop. They didn't let that sets of failures hold them back. They learned from them and they moved on. And let's talk about books. I've written over 20 books. They're not that hard, non-fiction books. You ask yourself, is this a book-size idea? Some ideas are only big enough for a post or an article. Is this a book-size idea? And then I write an excruciatingly detailed table of contents where I come up with every topic, subtopic and sub subtopic. And it's almost like an outline form. And I think through every potential issue. I brainstorm it. I create a very detailed outline, and then I ask myself, okay, I wanna set a word count. This book is probably gonna be 30,000 words, 50,000 words, 60,000 words. And I'm gonna commit to myself to a certain word count. And, usually, the word count is about a 1,000 words a day for me. It could be 500, 250 words for you. Let's think about that for a second. Let's think, you're gonna write a 60,000-word book, which is, on average, what your business books are these days, 60 to 80,000 words. And you commit to writing a 1,000 words a day. And this isn't gonna be the final version. You're just sitting down and you're writing. They're is still gonna be editing afterward. If you write a 1,000 words a day for a 60,000-word book, you've written your book in two months and then you take another month to edit it. And, in three months, you've written a book. I guess it sounds easier than what it sounds. Yeah, but who's gonna write a 1,000 words a day? Pick a lower word count. Maybe you'll pick a higher word count. Maybe some days you set yourself to write 500 words and you write 250. Some days, you set yourself to write 750 words and you write 2,000. But commit to a certain word count each day. And, sometimes, you don't quite make it. Sometimes you blow past it, but do it consistently over a period of time. And you're gonna get a lot done that way. And if you're the sort of person that just wants to get things done, I would suggest you take a long weekend somewhere. Go away from the house. Go to a State of Hampton Inn or some Econo Hotel, somewhere you're not gonna spend a lot of money on, make sure they have Wi-Fi. You lock yourself into your room. You order room service, or you order in through Uber Eats and you try to write maybe a few thousand words a day. You spend a long weekend somewhere. You write 3,000 or 4,000 words. You've written at the end, 10, maybe 12,000 words. Once you have that much momentum, it's hard to go back. It's really hard to go back. And so, let's talk about improving your law firm's writing. We're gonna go past improving your personal writing to improving your law firm's writing. And you start by asking yourself, what do other people think about our law firm and how our law firm writes? What do judges say? What do opposing counsels say? What do clients say? How clear is it? How concise is it? How simple is it? And how direct is it? And everything we send out, whatever copy we have, whether it's on our website, every motion letter, memo or email reflects upon ourself as individual lawyers in our firm. And so, we're constantly being sized up and measured by how we write. And we write a lot more than we speak if you think about it, because we're constantly communicating vis-a-vis email and text messages and social media and so forth. And so, it's important to get a sense of how we all write. And I think there's this misunderstanding that we all went to law school, we're all good writers. We went through high school. We went through four years of college. We went through three years of law school. We sat for the BAR. Of course, we're good writers. And I think a lot of us kind of assume we're good writers and we're not. And it's kind of telling when a new lawyer joins our firm and they have a very strong sense of what the writing is, and they realize that they have to rethink their writing because it's too legal or legalese, it's too indirect. It's not as concise. It's not as powerful. It's not as persuasive as it can be. And so, there's a reeducation. And so, I think the first thing we all have to do is that each of us can get better writers. I've been doing this for a while. I've been practicing 25 years, written a lot, my writing can still improve. As I mentioned earlier, when I got Grammarly and I started installing, it's like, wow, like I didn't think about writing it this way or that way. And this new platform has helped me improve a lot. So, I think we all have to get past some pride and figure out, okay, we all can have a lot to learn when it comes to writing. And we have to be honest with ourselves. And if we look at anything we've done in the past when it comes to our writing, and we look at some early work, and I don't keep my articles in hard copy. I used to do that until maybe five or 10 years ago when I thought that was kind of silly. I had a copy of whenever I had an article or remember we used to get physical magazines. I remember we all used to get physical magazines. Now most everything is online. I used to keep that like, oh, look at me, it's a magazine. It's my name, there's a byline, it's road signing. And I remember looking back and kind of cringing at some of my early writing, like, wow, this is really bad. It was fine enough for this publication, I suppose, but this is not good. And then I look at more recent stuff like, oh, this is much better. This certainly says what I wanna say in a much more clear, concise, persuasive, motivational, inspirational way. And so, I suggest creating a firm-wide writing program where everybody participates, no matter how long their experience is. And even if people think, even you appellate writers, people have written tons of briefs, including myself, I've written a lot, we all can learn from writing. And I think it's a communal experience. You can kind of meet periodically, maybe a lunch meeting, maybe, depending on how big your firm is through virtually. But kind of do this where it is something that goes beyond just a handful of people. And the whole point of this is to create a writing course that's an improved work product. You know, better writing translates into better work product, which clients will appreciate and possibly reward with additional business. So, there is a business development aspect to clear and precise and powerful writing. Other firms and lawyers and other firms will be attracted to it. Clients will be attracted to it. And the better writer you are, it transcends all manners and platforms of writing. If you become a better writer, it will come across not only in the articles you write or the books you write, but it'll come across in the text messages you send, the emails you send or the posts you write. It just affects and crosses all borders in that way. And I think it'll also improve your efficiency. I think as you become a better writer, you have to go through less rewrites. If everybody improves their writing, there's a lot less back and forth going between a partner and associate. And I think it also will standardize everybody's writing style. I believe in a very direct, brief, powerful form of writing. I think that should be the default. Maybe your writing should be a little bit different, but I think the firm should speak with one voice when it comes to its writing style. And I think there should be some consensus reached among your lawyers as to how you wanna write as a lawyer and as a practice group and as a firm. And so, people will come to recognize your firm's writing as opposed to any one individual style. And I think if you can write in a clear, concise way, I think that's sort of the default, that maybe your default's a little bit different. But I think if everybody writes the same way and approaches it the same way, it becomes a lot easier to revise other people's work. Because often, if you have a certain way of writing and I have a certain way of writing, I'm gonna try to impose my style onto you. You're gonna try to push back with your style when I make revisions. And if we all agree on how we should be writing, how we should be communicating, the points we should be making, how to make them, it makes revisions and finalizing documents a lot easier, especially, if you're working on very big cases where you have multiple lawyers and you're having drafts go through lots of different hands. And so, what does a successful writing program entail? Well, you discuss good writing. Explain to the attorneys what good writing is and set out three or four principles you want your lawyers to learn and emulate, live by. These are my suggestions. I think writing plain English is important. Saying more with fewer words and writing in an active direct manner. Those are sort of the three rules I apply. How can I speak plainly, simply, and in as few words and directly as possible. And I think that should be, again, your default if you're trying to figure out what your firm style is, I think that's the appropriate style. But that's a good jumping off point. And I think if you can use these three points as sort of a jumping off point, then that's a good way of getting there. You define what your writing is first, just like you define with your client what a win is. You define what your goals are. These are the goals you wanna do. And then I would suggest you'd purchase some textbooks and you can do that either hard copies or through online, get a grammar book. "Whose Grammar Book is This Anyway" is a good book. Strunk and White's, "Elements of Style", we give every lawyer a copy of that. It is a very thin book, about 80 pages, small book. You can read it in about three hours, maybe. But a lot of great information. Again, I think grammar books are important. Maybe creating a writing reading list. There are lots of books that are out there geared specifically for lawyers and persuasive writing, dozens of books. And so, agree on maybe a half dozen books that you're gonna get people to read. Meet once a month to discuss the book's highlights and what the attorneys have learned. And get people thinking about basics, again. Grammar, expressing themselves, communication. And move from basic books, from grammar to more stylistic books, to books about arguments and persuasion and kind of keep all that in mind. And then review examples of good writing. It could be writing done in your firm. It could be writing that you saw by a co-defense counsel or claims counsel. Something that you've pulled up online and kind of dissect it. Take a motion or an article or an email or maybe a letter to an editor or whatever it might be and circulate it. And then discuss why it's effective, why it gets a point across, why it communicates something, why it resonates with the reader, why you can win with this. And then, again, as I said, develop a firm style. One of the overreaching goals of a firm writing program is to develop a voice or style that all the attorneys subscribe to. We're all on the same page. We're all rowing in the same direction about how we want to communicate. And if you become a better writer, you become a better thinker. You become a better communicator. If you are able to express yourselves concisely, directly, powerfully, you'll do that, not only in your written communications, you'll do that in your verbal communications. You'll constantly be self-filtering and self-checking yourself in such a way that you are saying things in a very persuasive and direct matter. I often find that when I became a better writer, I became a better communicator overall and I was able to express myself in a way that made more sense. Like it wasn't rambling, it wasn't a lot of digressions. I got to the point, I made the point, I moved on. And then consider preparing sort of an electric binder, maybe even a physical binder with writing samples, with information, with tips and so forth. And, that way, you have it in one place. So, whenever you have somebody else join your firm, you have that all readily available. And then encourage your team, encourage your attorneys to publish. I think that's really important. Encourage them to publish. And newsletters, newspapers, magazines is a great way to get your name out there. It's a great way to put yourself out there as an expert. It's a really great way to develop your writing because, invariably, you're gonna be working with editors of these publications and they're gonna give you feedback. And so, you get another voice into the mix. And I cannot emphasize this enough, I don't care what type of practice you have, I don't care how much writing you do or you think that you do, good writings are crucial to your firm's success. Think about your website, for example, and think about how people come to your website and the copy you have on that website and whether it sends a message about who you are, what your mission and vision and values are. Think about the social media publications you put out there, either you do or other lawyers, and what that communicates about you and your firm. Think about every email you send. Think about the letters you write. Think about the motions and pleadings you send out. Think about anything that's, so much of it is writing. We kind of just kind of assume writing is pleadings and motions and everything else is not. But everything we write, everything we put in writing, no matter how short, how direct, how simple, is a representation of who we are as lawyers, how we think, our reputation, and also who we are as a firm. And so, knowing all of that, it's important to have a way of seeing how you express yourself. And no matter what means or mode or approach you take, when it comes to writing, always kind of keep that in mind. And so, to kind of sum up, we're kind of running to the end of the hour. One, obviously, writing is integral and crucial to your practice. No matter what you think of your writing, whether you think it's superb, you don't think you need to have much to learn, you'd always be surprised. We can always improve on our writing. I find actually what I find curious is some of the most best writers I know are the ones who are most proactive in improving their writing. They're the ones who are reading the books on writing, who are studying other people's writing, who are trying to always make their writing better. And these are people who objectively would say they're the cream of the cream, the top of the top, but they're constantly working on it. And if they can do that, we can all do that as well. And always just take the time, find time to write every day. Write something other than the writing you do for work. Maybe you journal, maybe you work on an article, maybe you work on a book, maybe you post every day on social media. But take at least 15 minutes a day to do some writing that isn't writing related to a given case and it doesn't even have to be legal. Maybe you're working on a novel, maybe you're working on poetry, but just getting into the habit of writing every day. It will make you more creative. It will develop your imagination and improve your communication. It will help how you think through things. It'll make you a more broad-based individual. It's so important just to, it's a muscle really. And if you get into the habit of exercising every day, you'll find that you become much better at writing overall. And I think the better you become at writing and the more you put out there, it really helps your brand. I've been on LinkedIn now for, I wanna say for a number of years, been posting daily for about six-plus years, and I think LinkedIn of all things, really helped me with my writing because, at first, I was a little afraid. I was a little skeptical. I was concerned about what I would be saying, how people would react to it. And it really helped me build my confidence. It helped me develop a certain communication style. Again, LinkedIn, previously, the most number of characters you could have for a post were, I think, 1,300 characters. Now, it's 2,600 characters. That's not a lot. And it was a great way of communicating in a very direct way and very powerful way. You also learn just visually how words looked on a page. You learn how to space words out, how to get people's attention, how to use hooks, how to have something go viral on you because you learn what stories resonate, what messages resonate, which ones get a wide following, a lot of likes and shares and comments and ones just trying to fall flat. And you start creating a mental library in your head as to what works and what doesn't. What forms of communications work, what doesn't. What messaging works and what doesn't. And I would recommend for all of you who wanna really improve your writing, to get on LinkedIn, to pick a topic you're comfortable with, typically, your primary practice area, and to post every day on it. Again, just a few sentences. And in the process of doing that, a few things will happen. Your writing will improve. Your ability to communicate will improve. But I think even more important than that, you'll develop a brand, you'll develop a following. People will get to know, like, and trust you and they'll consider you an expert in the field that you are posting about. And within weeks, sometimes months, you will have people start following and liking and interacting with you and seeing you as an attorney in that practice area. 'Cause you're consistently and constantly posting in that given area. And it's in doing so that is a great way to develop reputation as an expert, expand your brand and to bring in business. And LinkedIn is free. You can get the premium package. I did that just recently for a variety of reasons, but you don't have to actually pay for that. And, actually, most people I know don't, actually are on premium. They're just posting regularly and it's perfectly fine. And it's a great way to grow and build and expand your network by writing one post at a day. And, again, if you're going to, as I suggest, write each day and just get in the habit of writing above and beyond your daily writing for your practice, I think LinkedIn is the perfect way of doing that. You pick a topic, you write about it each day, maybe take five or 10 minutes and you put it out there and you do that for weeks, months and years. And you'll develop a huge following. You'll develop a big reputation. You'll have a very broad footprint online and people will come back and get to know, like, and trust you. So, I am coming close to the end. Again, my name is Frank Ramos. I'm here in Miami, I'm at Clarke Silverglate. You can find more about me on my LinkedIn page under Frank Ramos. And it's easy to find. You'll see my photo in the background of the Brickle City Center, which is an area where I am here in Miami. Or you can follow me on my personal website, miamimentor.com. Both places you'll find my publications, almost all of them are free. Some of them deal specifically with writing. One of the books I've written, it's a free book, "How to Get Published". It covers some of the topics we covered here. It's a little bit more broad-based. It walks you through on how to write an article, for example, or how to write a book. And many of us have a book in us. Many of us have been talking about writing a book for years, if not decades. It's not that hard to do. It is more a question of developing a habit of writing every day. That's the the hardest part. And if you can do that for, let's say, two, maybe three weeks and you get past that hump, you'll find that you will have the ability, within a few short months, to write a full non-fiction book. At which point, you will have something to work with, edit, and then send out to either a publisher or a literary agent or maybe just self-publish. And there's nothing wrong with that. Most of my books were published through voluntary BAR associations. Some are self-published. It depends on what you want to do with the book. But that is the process I would suggest. You pick a topic, you write every day and you can find a lot more of that information in the book, "How to Get Published", which is on the various publications I have written. I wish you the best when it comes to your writing. Again, it is a lifelong process. It is not something that you stop improving and working upon. It is something that you will continue learning from. And if you have the attitude that writing can always improve and you always get better, you'll be open to other people's styles and tips and advice. Thank you so much and I appreciate your time today.

Presenter(s)

FR
Francisco Ramos
Partner
Clarke Silverglate, P.A.

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                                                                      January 16, 2025 at 11:59PM HST

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                                                                        December 9, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

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                                                                        Available until
                                                                        Status
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                                                                        December 9, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

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                                                                        December 31, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

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                                                                                    Pending
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                                                                                      December 9, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                      Status
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                                                                                        Credits
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                                                                                        December 9, 2024 at 11:59PM HST

                                                                                        Status
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                                                                                        Credits
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                                                                                        December 9, 2027 at 11:59PM HST

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