Even Thomas Jefferson joked about lawyers being paid by the word; for hundreds of years, we’ve been paid to work in words yet terrible at doing so effectively.

Sure, it’s not necessarily our fault — a lot of our work is awfully complicated, and we’re held to peculiar standards that often require we use specific archaic language or throw the kitchen sink into our arguments — but if you’re not doing everything you can to make your argument clear and easy to understand, then you’re not doing enough.

Allow me to mash together two posts from Raymond Ward’s the (new) legal writer:

Start with Peter Friedman, who links to Randall Ryder, who links to Seth Godin. …

Most e-mails are intended either to inform or to elicit a response (or both). For tips on making your e-mail more effective at both, read The Well-Structured Email at Dan Brown’s Green Onions. (Hat tip to Tom Mighell.)

The links in the first paragraph tell writers to get to the point. The links in the second paragraph give guidance on structure in email, which Tom Mighell at inter alia breaks down to include:

– Use headers to delineate sections

– Make a recommendation – you shorten the conversation and the email chain
– Summarize the message – for longer emails
– Use bullets for sub-topics
– Anticipate needed information – again, to short-circuit the seemingly endless chain of messages

There is of course no reason to limit this advice to email. Do it with everything: emails, letters, briefs, even oral arguments and phone calls.

Language changes how people think (via) — if the whole point of communication in the law is to get others to understand (and, hopefully, agree) with you, then the means through which a thought is expressed is second in importance only to the merits of the thought itself.

Chief among those means is the structure of the overall work, which should take the reader in as concise a manner as possible from a clear starting point to a clear conclusion, stopping only to emphasize and to delineate the key points you’re trying to convey.

Consider Judge Ronald Leighton’s dismissal order from 2008:

Plaintiff has a great deal to say,
But it seems he skipped Rule 8(a),
His Complaint is too long,
Which renders it wrong,
Please re-write and re-file today.