“Writing to WIN: The Legal Writer”
by Steven D. Stark
United States District Court Judge Jack Weinstein ruled on David v Heckler in 1984 (591 F.Supp. 1033). What Judge Weinstein found was that bad writing in government documents violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Author Steven D. Stark tells us this in the Introduction then shows us why so much legal writing isn’t easy to read much less understand.
Writing to WIN is divided into four parts: Part I: The Fundamentals of Legal Writing, Part II: The Fundamentals of Argument for All Lawyers, Part III: Writing in Litigation, and Part IV:Writing in Legal Practice. But the book is not your ordinary dry text on how to write. Stark uses unexpectedly funny examples to liven up the text and make it readable. For instance – if your sentences begin to sound like they are from the Code of Federal Regulations, Stark refers to these as MEGO (writing that makes My Eyes Glaze Over) sentences. Attorneys are encouraged to write according to “the McDonald’s test” – If the document is read aloud in McDonald’s, would people understand what is being said? Many legal documents seem to have been written under the theory that if a lay person can read it from beginning to end without falling asleep, it needs work.
An important reason for the need to change writing is because people read differently today. When legal documents only existed on paper, they were read from beginning to end. Court paperwork today is E-filed and people tend to scan rather than read only in a linear fashion. Instead of building up to the main point, put it first. Don’t bury the lead, the reader will appreciate it and that writing is more likely to WIN.