TipsAnd, now — the second half of my Tips on Working with Me memo.

Write well

​I don’t expect you to write precisely as I do. You shouldn’t. You have your own voice. Most people never find theirs (or don’t have a good one), and many of those who do find it discover it through hard work and trial and error.

Parker Folse writes beautiful prose but in a style very different from mine. Pick up from me (and others) anything you find useful and discard the rest.

My views about writing include these:

a. Dislikes

i. passive voice,

ii. the word “clearly”,

iii. misspellings,

iv. verbs that don’t agree with subjects,

v. legalese,

vi. leaving out an open or close parenthesis or a quotation mark,

vii. starting a quotation with an ellipsis,

viii. block quotes,

ix. non-Blue Book citation form,

x. reciting the other side’s argument without – in the same sentence – trashing it,

xi. calling parties “plaintiffs” and “defendants” instead of by their names,

xii. unimportant facts,

xiii. failure to check citations,

xiv. verbosity,

xv. unnecessarily repetitive use of a word or phrase,

xvi. burying important arguments or authorities in footnotes,

xvii. split infinitives,

xviii. phrases like “in the end” or “after all”,

xix. personal attacks on opposing counsel,

xx. using uninformative headings (or not using strong headings), and

xxi. failing to show how the cases that you cite support our position.

b. Likes

i. respect for the reader,

ii. realizing that the reader doesn’t have much reason to trust you (yet),

iii. appreciating that you should therefore aim everything you write at earning the reader’s trust and enhancing your credibility,

iv. active voice,

v. conciseness,

vi. vibrant verbs,

vii. strong nouns,

viii. few adjectives and fewer adverbs,

ix. short words,

x. synonyms,

xi. quoting an especially important or helpful authority rather than paraphrasing it,

xii. smooth transitions and strong connections from one paragraph to the next,

xiii. headings (in briefs) that highlight good facts instead of conclusions,

xiv. elegant analogies,

xv. taking the other side’s arguments early-on and head-on (and not in footnotes, for Pete’s sake!),

xvi. citing cases whose holdings supports our position,

xvii. never citing a case just for a good quote,

xviii. starting with a punchy explanation of why our position should prevail,

xix. including (in briefs and memos) a short statement of the case to explain its procedural posture, and

xx. a non-argumentative fact section that – despite its apparent neutrality – leaves the reader with the conviction that our side should win.


You will make mistakes; everybody does. But you should know that honest errors very seldom make a material difference in a case.

​But trying to hide a mistake can turn something minor into something serious. That approach would also increase your stress and hurt your effectiveness. Getting the truth out quickly, on the other hand, usually keeps any problem from becoming intractable; it also enhances your trustworthiness.

Keep me up to date

​Clients want me to stay on top of their cases. I need your help in doing that. If you think a document or issue needs my close attention, note that in a message to me, either in an email or a voicemail, or pay an in-person visit to alert me to the situation.

Trial team practices

​Each trial team that I head will have a weekly call. Because of the call’s importance in advancing the client’s case, all lawyers, paralegals, and principal client representatives must normally participate in it. Notify trial team members in advance by email in the rare instances when you cannot attend a call.

​Before each weekly trial team call, I or another lawyer will circulate a task assignments memo. She or I will also update the memo, renumber it, and send around the new version after the call.

​Err on the side of over-informing trial team members, especially clients, of developments in their cases. Assume, unless they or I say otherwise, that clients should get a copy of everything that comes into or goes out of our offices, including letters, briefs, pleadings, and memos.

You shouldn’t write anything that you wouldn’t want our clients to see.

I will generally forward emails that come to me first to the entire trial team, often without comment. If I think of something that I want a trial team member to do in response, I will put it in an email or ask him or her to see me to discuss the assignment.

​After a deposition or hearing, email to me and the other trial team members, including the client (unless a protective order provides otherwise), the highlights of what happened.

​Notify me as soon as possible if you think you can’t meet a deadline or have a conflicting assignment. I will understand if you alert me in time to make alternative arrangements. I might not if you don’t.

​If you want or expect me to attend of participate in a conference call, meeting, hearing, or other event, send me an Outlook invitation that includes the necessary details. That way, I can put it directly on my Outlook calendar by “accepting” the invitation.

Don’t fight (unless you have to)

​Avoid fights with the other side. That goes double for discovery disputes. They hurt feelings, waste time, and encourage frivolous requests for sanctions.

If a conflict looks likely, let me know as soon as you can. The problem may result from dealing with lawyers who don’t have enough experience or authority to work things out reasonably. My intervention with a more senior lawyer on the other side may resolve the issue.

Keep yourself up to date

​I expect you to keep track of the deadlines in each case we work on together, to familiarize yourself with the terms of all case management and protective orders, and to possess near-encyclopedic knowledge of the applicable rules of civil procedure and of the forum’s local rules. Sometimes people ask me a question that they could have answered themselves if they had consulted one of these basic sources. If I ask you what the applicable rule says about a legal issue that you’ve contacted me about, let’s hope you don’t have to say you don’t know!


​Never treat anyone with disrespect, no matter how disrespectfully he or she has treated you. Pigs like mud fights and especially enjoy getting you dirty too.

Tell the truth

​Having credibility gives you an enormous advantage in all aspects of your job. You have to earn it every day.

Always, always, always tell the truth. Always.

Ask questions

​We work in a profession whose best practitioners excel in coming up with creative solutions to problems. A lot of the process goes on inside our heads. If you want to learn more about the creative aspects of our law practice, ask a senior person to talk through how he or she came up with the great idea that solved a tough issue.

Have fun!