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Tips for better legal writing

Some of my favorite tips from legal writing authority Bryan Garner: Don’t rely exclusively on computer research. Also use print indexes, digests, and treatises, including resources like Corpus Juris Secundum and American Jurisprudence, to round out your understanding of the subject matter. Google Books (especially the advanced-search function) can provide fresh resources to supplement what you find with Westlaw or Lexis. Lead with a summary of your conclusions, not with a full statement of facts. Start your brief, opinion letter, or research memorandum with an up-front summary, which will typically include the principal questions or main issue, the answers to those questions, and the reasons for those answers. Never open with a full-blown statement of facts. Facts are useless to a reader who doesn’t yet understand what the issue is. Instead, integrate a few key facts into your issue statement. Make your summary understandable to outsiders. Your biggest challenge is put your upfront summary in a way that your friends and relatives […]

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How to write a declaration

Declarations provide the factual basis for claims made in memoranda of points and authorities, briefs, and writs. (I.e., every statement of fact in a brief must be properly supported with a citation to a declaration.) Here’s how to write a really good declaration: First, write the declaration in the declarant’s own voice, using her own language, from her own perspective. Second, tell a good story. The declaration should be a narrative, and it should be comprehensive with regard to the incidents it relates. Finally, follow the rules of evidence. Everything in a declaration must be admissible as if it were testimony in court. There must be foundation (how the witness knows what she knows) and there must not be inadmissible hearsay. Show personal knowledge for every claim in the declaration. For example, do not say, “I applied for General Relief last week but I can’t get it for six more weeks.” Instead, […]

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Innovative Lawyer Profile: Chris Wimmer

Chris Wimmer graduated from Columbia Law School in 2005 and opened his own practice, Emergent Legal, in 2013. I spoke to him in March 2014. “A good lawyer has to have a genuine desire to relate to his clients in order to advance their interests.  He has to be genuinely interested in understanding who they are and what motivates them.” Tell me about the path that led you to start your own legal practice. I went to law school to be a human rights lawyer.  But I had a daughter not long after I graduated from law school, and I had to think about how to support a family. So after I finished my clerkship with Judge Jack B. Weinstein in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, I went to work in commercial litigation and white collar disputes, first at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and […]

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Developing professional skills through volunteering

Taking on pro bono cases is an oft-used way for new and seasoned lawyers alike to learn new areas of law and/or begin to develop a network for referrals. Here are some resources online to find the right pro bono opportunity for you: Probono.net’s  Volunteer Guide lists organizations with pro bono opportunities, by state. You can narrow your search to specific areas of law, specific populations served, specific counties, and/or specific type of project. The Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Project lists specific cases or shorter-term projects. Like probono.net, the site also lists programs and organizations that can refer pro bono cases that might not be listed on the site.  

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Links to other profiles of enterprising lawyers

ABA’s Legal Rebels project - Profiles innovative lawyers “finding new ways to practice law, represent their clients, adjudicate cases and train the next generation of lawyers.” James Baron, Esq. - Special education solo practitioner. Helen Gulgun Bukulmez, Esq. - Immigration law solo practitioner. Lee Rosen, Esq. - Family law solo practitioner.

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