People say everything happens for a reason. Nothing could be truer in this circumstance. When I graduated law school and finished my clerkship, times were tough. Many of my colleagues could not find jobs. I was graciously offered a position as an associate attorney for national counsel for several insurance companies. One of my primary responsibilities was writing. I wrote for three years in this position and loved every minute of it. Writing for me was like painting a picture: advocacy in its most artistic form.
I have since moved firms, and I do not write nearly as much as I previously did. Writing is not my primary function, as I am in court now more than ever. However, I still do write briefs in my current practice and blog occasionally.
An Approach to Writing
When I start to write, I begin by thinking of my issue(s) or concept as a whole. Where do I want to take my audience? Am I advocating, educating or just trying to make a point? How do I want my writing to be perceived? Aggressive and adversarial or light and humorous (clearly I would not use this approach in my professional writing)?
Then comes the research. There is very little that I write about where I do not do at least a little research, even when I am writing about my own experiences. When briefing, one of my favorite parts of writing is the research. I absolutely love the feeling of finding a case that applies to my facts. When writing for fun or professional growth, i.e., blogs and articles, I often interview friends or colleagues in addition to general Internet research.
Next comes some more thinking. How am I going to get my message across? This is where I often use creative formatting for organization when creating my outline. Some formatting techniques I find particularly effective and use a lot, in addition to bullet points and numbering, are headings and subheadings that are two of the following three: bold, italicized and/or underlined. After I've determined the flow of my story, I often get my thoughts on paper quickly and without reserve.
Following my first draft, I like to take a step back before revisions. I re-read the piece without making any revisions to determine if it is clear, organized and direct. Is there any portion that should be eliminated, supplemented or repositioned? Are there any creative tools that I can use to further strengthen my point or argument? One tool that I occasionally use when briefing is to cut and paste excerpts from original documents.
For example, in a case where an issue was the medical necessity of my client to use a cane, I cut and pasted a portion of the doctor's prescription ordering the cane. I would not suggest this technique for every audience and certainly wouldn't do it multiple times in one writing; however, if you can cut and paste conclusive evidence, it can be very effective. When using this technique, it is important that the excerpt or picture look clean and well positioned.
Before submitting any writing, I read it one last time for mistakes and grammar. Nothing can taint what would otherwise be an effective brief like two of the same word in a row, or a silly grammatical error that wasn't caught. It affects the writer's credibility and the readability of the piece in general. After I proofread, I often ask one of my co-workers or friends to review my writing to ensure that I've caught inadvertent mistakes.
Writing is something that I strive to be proud of. It is the one forum where no one can interrupt you while arguing and criticism is often futile. It's an expression that only I can truly own.
Maria Harris is an attorney with Martin Banks, focusing her practice on Social Security and long-term disability. She was recently elected the vice chair of the young lawyers division of the Philadelphia Bar Association.