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Justice Kagan's Best Writing Tips

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Legal writing isn't easy. Whether it's a letter for a client, a complaint, a motion, or other pleading, clear writing can help you win the day for your client.

However, sometimes trying to synthesize legal arguments and long fact patterns into easy to read and easy to understand paragraphs can seem impossible. According to Justice Kagan, who has certainly proven herself to be rather prolific with the pen, to be a good legal writer, you have to be good at law, and a good writer.

Below, you can read a few of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's best writing tips, which might just help you improve your legal writing.

Reading Comprehension is Important

If you didn't carefully read or fully understand the cases you read to prepare your argument, or your opponent's brief, or other relevant pleadings, it's going to show through in your writing. Justice Kagan advises carefully reading everything start to finish, and actually reading, not skimming.

Don't Dumb It Down Too Much

While Justice Kagan believes that attorneys, and even judges, should strive to keep their writing simple enough to be understood by the average sophisticated reader (such as readers of The New Yorker), you don't have to dumb down your writing to the point where the average high school student would understand it. She adds the caveat that when dealing with a complex subject, you should assume your readers are educated on the subject, but not experts.

Explain Yourself -- Show Your Work

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when writing anything is to explain your logic. Just like in your high school math class, when writing a legal argument, you should show how you get from point A to a ruling in your favor. Connect all the dots. State the obvious. Don't just cite, explain.

Get Feedback

Getting feedback is important. Kagan has clerks for that. You might need to use a colleague. After all, when you're so engrossed in a subject, simply having anyone proofread or review something you write can help your argument as you might not see the forest after all that writing.

Don't Be Dry

While everything about your case may bore you half to death, your writing doesn't have to be dry. Use active voice, and if appropriate, Spider Man references.

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