how to write

Ten Things: Writing Skills for In-House Counsel (It’s Different In-House)

As general counsel I saw a lot of writing.  Emails, memos, policies, correspondence, etc.  Most of what I saw produced by my team was well written.  Some of it was not.  Wait, hold on. I take that back.  It was well written for a lawyer but it was not well written for what the business needed.  Here’s an example: one day I received a very long email from a new lawyer on my team discussing some litigation risks in a dispute brewing on the horizon.  It was an email we planned to share with our executive team once it was finished.  It began with a very detailed discussion of the facts and the law, including case citations and citations to secondary legal treatises.  There were plenty of Latin phrases (I had to look some of them up in a Black’s Law Dictionary), lots of “Wheretofore’s” and other legal jargon.  There were even a few typos. And, at the very end, was a long summary of everything I had just read along with a squishy conclusion saying essentially, on one hand this but on the other hand that, with no clear recommendation on what to do next, no conclusion about the most likely outcome given the different risks at play, and no mention of next steps.  There was so much information to wade through, it was like trying to find the score of the game in a Grantland Rice column.  I knew that if we sent this out to the senior management, heads would explode long before they got to the end of the email.

I thought I knew what the problem was immediately.  The lawyer who had written it had recently moved in-house from a big law firm.  Sure enough, when I walked down to have a chat with them, I saw a treatise on legal writing on their desk, right next to a copy of “The Bluebook.”  Ah yes, problem confirmed.  I asked him/her to pop down to my conference room to talk about the email.  We sat down and I said, “The first thing you need to do is forget everything they taught you about writing in law school and at the firm.”  Secondly, “And here are some things you need to know to write successfully as an in-house lawyer.”  This edition of “Ten Things” shares those points with you: