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Seth Victor '09
April 20, 2010
My Sunscreen Song
Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2010,
Sorry, wrong speech. That’s not what I meant to say. The advice I wish to dispense, and please take this seriously, is that you remember how to write. You will not truly appreciate the power of strong writing until you are out of law school, and by then you will likely be so overwhelmed by trying to make ends meet and finding or keeping a job that you will not be able to correct poor writing habits that have wandered into your fingertips. I dispense this warning fully aware of my own shortcomings and faults, and I do not pretend to be any sort of credible expert on the topic. I know only what I have seen, and it is both disheartening and encouraging.
The state of legal writing, at least in northern New Jersey, is encouraging in that any of you future or current law students who can identify a topic sentence should have jobs. It is disheartening because even though you all should get jobs, that doesn’t mean you will. Instead the legal community will continue to be populated by attorneys who found a high score in spider solitaire a more worthwhile achievement than a well-constructed first year brief. If you are one of these people, stop what you are doing and hit the books. I am usually the last person to tell you to take law school seriously. I must recant that position, at least for this issue. Strong legal writing is important because it is your method of communicating with the judge. To paraphrase Mark Twain, you may appear to be an idiot, but once you commit a thought to paper in an indiscernible manner, you will remove all doubt. I don’t mean to be harsh, or come across as arrogant. I simply want you to understand that when a judge has a very short period of time in which to discern your argument, you need to make sure she gets the message as easily as possible.
(2) Write headings and subheadings. Your paragraphs should then relate to the heading.
(3) Paragraphs have topic sentences. Single paragraphs typically should not be pages long.
(4) Correcting spelling errors shows you took the time to research and write your argument and didn’t cut and paste. This isn’t fatal, but it makes you look better, even if you did just copy your last brief.
(5) TYPING IN ALL CAPS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING AND DOES NOT MAKE YOUR POINT ANY MORE CLEAR OR IMPORTANT.
(6) Throwing in side comments about the character of the other party to flavor your argument looks immature, unless the issue actually is the person’s character.
I can go on, but I won’t. Again, I’m not being pretentious. Everyone makes mistakes. I make more than my shareI highlight these problems that I see so that whether you are a 3L or a prospective student, you realize that with some very basic writing skills and common politeness, you are already as good as half of the attorneys who get paid for this business. Good luck. Oh, and yes, wear sunscreen.