You know the legal writing classes you took in law school? There’s a lot more to learn, and with a few steps, you can get better – and get better results. Guest Chris Schandevel is the “Brief-Writing Ninja” and passionate writing clear, simple, concise legal briefs that win over courts.
Courthouses are busy places. Judges and clerks deal with a lot of distractions and competing demands. Make your briefs stand out boy making them easier to read and follow. Any jargon, excessive footnotes, parentheticals, and asides just add to the chaos and detract from your argument. Good writing, formatting, and attention to detail matter.
Schandevel has created an easy-to-use, three-page style guide for legal writing and clear formatting. You don’t need to use fancy words to sell your case. Clear, simple language and a clean story help the court understand your argument and see your point.
Take a deep dive into the art and artistry of writing and presenting a legal brief at the highest levels, and get some tips you can start using today. (Plus, do you know the official preferred font of the U.S. Supreme Court?)
Got questions or ideas about solo and small practices? Drop us a line at [email protected]
- Judges aren’t impressed with fancy words and jargon. A clear, easy-to-read legal brief is easier to follow to the conclusion you want your reader to reach.
- Learn to remove barriers to the reader such as excessive footnotes, lengthy sentences and changes in “voice.” And do use the Oxford comma!
What is the “cleaned up parenthetical?” (And how is it being adopted at the highest levels of the law?) Find out.
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Intro: New approach, new tools, new mindset. New Solo.
Adriana Linares: Welcome to another episode of New Solo on the Legal Talk Network. I’m your host, Adriana Linares. And today I have a really cool and special guest for everyone and I hope that this conversation is inspiring for you as I know it is going to be for me. I have with me today Chris Schandevel. Chris Schandevel is senior counsel on the appellate team at the Alliance Defending Freedom Organization. I’m going to ask him to tell us a little bit about that after I say hi. Hey, Chris.
Chris Schandevel: Hey, Adriana. Thanks for having me on. I’m so excited to be here.
Adriana Linares: I am, too. And before I let you introduce yourself, let me tell everyone how I found you and why you are here.
Chris Schandevel: Sure.
Adriana Linares: I was on LinkedIn looking for information on artificial intelligence for attorneys. That seems to be my best resource right now because of the context and the network that I have, the content is always very relevant. So, I was scrolling through and someone that I follow liked a post of yours that caught my eye because it’s your post from, let’s see, two weeks ago and it was titled, “Brief Writing Ninja Legal Style Guide”. So, I clicked on it and I looked at it and I don’t think I looked at it for more than about 0.5 seconds when I said, “Holy moly, this person has to come and talk to us about why words and word matter.” So, I pinged you on LinkedIn and asked you if you would come on as a guest and I know how busy you must be so I very, very much appreciate your time. So, with my intro of why you’re here, tell everyone who you are, what you do, and a little bit about how you got to becoming the #BriefWritingNinja on LinkedIn.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. So, like you said, my name is Chris Schandevel. I’m senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF is a non-profit law firm. We do public interest, impact litigation, mainly constitutional law, free speech, parental rights, religious freedom, issues of that sort. I’ve been here on the appellate team for four years now. Before coming to ADF, I was at the Virginia Attorney General’s office in the Criminal Appeal Section where I litigated appeals for five years. In my time there, I briefed and argued somewhere around 75 appeals in the State Court of Appeals. I think about 14 in the State Supreme Court.
Adriana Linares: Amazing.
Chris Schandevel: Yeah. Since coming to ADF, I’ve added to that number. So, I’m somewhere in the 80s now in terms of cases that I’ve briefed and argued. I am passionate about legal writing. I’m passionate about litigating. I enjoy it and I love talking about it. So, I’m really excited to be on your show today and to have this conversation. You asked me specifically about my Brief Writing Ninja hashtag on LinkedIn. So, I started investing a little more in LinkedIn just within the past year or so. I kind of given up on all other forms of social media but I saw LinkedIn as a platform where we can really find a community with common interest, really with a goal of not getting, getting, getting but really giving back and investing in others and helping people. And so, I love to teach. I love to share what I’ve learned and what my mentors have taught to me. So, I’ve tried to use it as an opportunity platform to teach what I’ve learned through the years about legal writing in particular. The Brief Writing Ninja hashtag comes from a nickname that my opposing counsel gave me pretty early on in my practice at the AG’s office. So, I was doing an appeal on behalf of the government. We’re appealing, I think, a suppression ruling from the trial court and he called me after while he was writing his brief and response and said, “You know, to be honest, I’ve been struggling with some of my responses.” Yeah, he’s like, “I’ve been telling my colleagues you’re like a brief writing ninja.” I don’t know even what to say in response to some of this. I tell people that was my favorite professional compliment, I think, I’ve ever gotten. And so, it’s just kind of a fun way to put a label on kind of my tips and tricks and strategies for brief writing that I’ve been sharing with the world here recently.
Adriana Linares: Well, that is seriously has to be one of the best things that could happen to any attorney. And how very cool and just amazing of that person to have called you just to say that. What a wonderful compliment. I also want to make sure when people go and find you on LinkedIn, I’m going to spell your last name just to make sure they can look for you. So, Chris is spelled like normal and then it’s S-C-H-A-N-D-E-V-E-L.
But you also have a video of an argument that you did. Tell us a little bit about that. I started to watch it. I was like, “I can’t watch an hour of this right now.” But it’s amazing because now you’re taking what you wrote and putting it into an oral format. So, tell us a little bit about that and I want everyone to go watch it.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve got a few videos posted there. I’ve got two in the Iowa Supreme Court and one in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Probably, my favorite oral argument I’ve ever done is the one in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. That was a case involving a very interesting issue why there’s a state constitutional right to assisted suicide. And so, I was actually arguing that case on behalf of an amicus, so I wasn’t representing one of the parties.
Adriana Linares: Oh, wow.
Chris Schandevel: And I filed a motion seeking leave for argument time about a week or so before argument was scheduled. And I found out two days before oral argument, the court issued an order granting my motion said, “Be here in Boston two days from now and let’s go.” And so, probably the shortest amount of time I’ve had to prepare for an oral argument here at ADF. But it brought me back to my AG’s office days when we were just litigating so many appeals that oftentimes I would have a day before argument to really prepare. And so, I just crammed everything that I could. I got my flight. I got to Boston, showed up. I had asked for five minutes of time at the lectern. The court ended up giving me 20 minutes because the justices had so many questions. And I walked away from it feeling about as good as I possibly could have felt. And I had someone in the audience say, “You know, I’m really sorry that they didn’t give you time to make your points. They were just peppering you with questions the whole time.” And I thought to myself, you know what that person doesn’t realize is that is exactly how I wanted that argument to go. I made exactly all the points that I wanted to but it was in the course of a conversation with the justices which is really how it should be. So, had a blast from experience, ended up winning the case, our side won, got a great result from the court, and now it’s become one of my favorite State Supreme Courts because the justices, the court staff, everyone there was just so pleasant and so great to work with.
Adriana Linares: That’s such a great story to hear, too. And is it very nerve wracking. You know, you seem so cool and calm and collected and people can’t see you but I’ll just say you also look very young and please don’t take that the wrong way because I just think it’s amazing that you don’t have to be an attorney. I’m sure you have been practicing for 40 years, let me put it that way. To be as good as you are, not just at writing the briefs and becoming the brief writing ninja but also to look as you do in this video which the one that pops up on your LinkedIn is the one you just described and you seem so confident. Where did it all come from?
Chris Schandevel: Lots and lots and lots of preparation. It’s all about preparation whether you’re talking about brief writing or talking about oral argument time. I have certainly been in situations with opposing counsel where I’ve been up against, especially early in my career. Attorneys who’ve been doing this for 10, 20, 30 years and it can be a little bit intimidating internally to think, “This person’s probably forgotten more law than I have ever heard of or learned myself.” But what I’ve realized from practicing is by investing the time and the effort and the energy into preparing before writing that brief, preparing to become the best legal writer you can be, preparing for that oral argument. You can really set yourself apart as a very skilled and effective litigator because you don’t take for granted the importance of preparation of hard work. Whereas when someone’s been doing it for 30, 40 years, then the temptation is on the other end is to start becoming too dependent on, “Well, I know this stuff. I’ve done this stuff, et cetera.” So, I see being a newer attorney as really an advantage and something that we ought to be able to and I’ve tried at least to use to my advantage in my cases.
Adriana Linares: And how did you become such a great public speaker? Did you do a lot of debate class and mock trial? Did you go to toastmasters? Are there any tips you can give us on that part of being so successful?
Chris Schandevel: Yeah, it’s a great question. So, I’ll tell you, in law school, I kind of rode off doing appellate advocacy because all of my friends who were doing moot court and all of those things, they’d done speech and debate in high school. It just seemed to be ingrained within them. I had never even heard of Robert’s Rules, so I didn’t know what all these things were.
Adriana Linares: Interesting.
Chris Schandevel: So, I didn’t do much of it but then I ended up doing appellate clerkship after law school and then that opened the door for me to go to the State AG’s office and start doing appeals. And it turns out that, one, I love it, and two, I ended up being a lot better at it than I expected. And what I realized is that I had gotten a lot of public speaking practice and experience growing up in high school, in undergrad, and in law school but where it came for me, I taught a lot of Bible study classes at my church.
A lot of adult Bible classes. And you’d be surprised the parallels between standing in front of a group of three judges who are peppering you with questions, trying to get you off track, asking you hard questions, you’re trying to steer them back on course.
Adriana Linares: I can see where this is going.
Chris Schandevel: Standing up in church in front of a group of adults who are peppering you with questions, you’re trying to keep them on track, you’re trying to answer their questions, but still bring it back to the points that you want to make, et cetera. So, I found myself being much more natural at it than I expected. And so, I think the takeaway is just take advantage of any opportunity that you get to do public speaking regardless if it has anything to do with the law or not.
Adriana Linares: That’s a great tip. I want to move on to our next segment and talk about legal writing because first of all it’s not a topic I’ve ever covered and it’s certainly not a topic that the attorneys who come to see me ask me about, right? Because they should have it all figured out. But as far as your experience and loving to teach attorneys how to be better attorneys, why is legal writing so important? It’s an obvious question but I’d love to hear the way you answer it.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. To me, litigating is all about persuading, all about trying to convince your audience to join you in doing what you’re asking them to do for your clients. And so, for me, it’s all about speaking to judges and to be honest speaking to their law clerks knowing that law clerks are reading our briefs and doing it in a way that is as persuasive as possible. And for me, persuasion, I define persuasion the way that Aristotle defined persuasion, right? It’s not all about having the most logically compelling arguments. That’s the logos. That’s an important third of that equation. But another big part of it is the pathos. It’s the emotion. It’s the human element. And another big part of it is the ethos. It’s the credibility that you are portraying through your written word to your reader. And far too often, I feel like we attorneys we assume that if I’ve got the right argument, if I’m right, I can just throw it on a page, put it before the court and I should just win and I’m not going to invest anything to make my brief more readable. I’m not going to spend time making sure it looks nice. I’m not going to worry about some of the finer details and making sure that I’m completely accurate in a way that maintains my credibility with the court. I’m just going to get the argument on paper and turn it in. And over the years, I’ve seen litigants many cases. I’ve seen a lot of poorly written briefs.
Adriana Linares: I’m sure.
Chris Schandevel: And I’ll say we do our clients such a disservice when we don’t invest the time and the effort and the energy to making our briefs as persuasive as possible in every facet of what it means to be persuasive. So, that’s why it’s so important to me to invest in becoming the best writer that I can be and also in helping others to do the same and to understand all that encompasses.
Adriana Linares: Well, when we get back from this break, we’re going to talk about the Brief Writing Ninja’s Legal Style Guide. We’re going to tell you where to go get it and were going to hit some main points on it. We’ll be right back.
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Adriana Linares: All right, everyone, were back. I’m here with Chris Schandevel who is the #BriefWritingNinja on LinkedIn. And, Chris, tell everyone where they can get the guide. I have it in front of me and you have it obviously in front of you and probably in your head but we’re going to sort of talk through some points. So, I hope everyone stops, pauses this podcast, goes to get, at least put it in front of you, on LinkedIn and then we can talk to these things. So, how do they get it?
Chris Schandevel: Absolutely. So, if you’ll just run a search for me, Chris Schandevel on LinkedIn. S-C-H-A-N-D-E-V-E-L. Find my profile. Find my recent activity. This is one of my most recent posts. I’m also going to feature it as one of my featured posts because it did do so well in terms of the traffic that it received. So, it will be right there on the main page of my profile. And when you open it there, if you make it full screen, you’ll have an option to download the document.
A lot of folks message me, asking me, “How can I download it?” Because one thing that’s very important about your listeners being able to download the document, I filled the document with hyperlinks to online resources where they can really do a deep dive into each of these individual points. So, getting the document downloaded and getting those hyperlinks is so important.
Adriana Linares: Right. So, you don’t need to print it everyone because the hyperlinks won’t work. I mean, you can but I think your tip of making sure you hit full screen because the download button doesn’t appear in LinkedIn until you do that. So, everyone make sure you hit full screen. The download button will be in the top right-hand corner and you’re going to get this beautiful concise three-page document with all of these great links in it and I noticed that you often link to Bryan Garner, a lot actually, and then you’ve got some other tools that you use in there that we’ll talk about. Okay, so for listeners, you’ve paused, you’ve gotten a Legal Style Guide but in case you’re driving and you didn’t have time, here’s what Chris and I are going to do. He has a lot of sections, formatting, style and tone, structure, paragraphs, quotations, citations, sentences, words, punctuation. That’s it. We’re going to hit some major points on all of those except the very first one because I want to spend the last segment of the show on formatting. It’s very important to me because we talk a lot about word everyone. You all know how many times I say it’s just critical that you become a good word user.
So, Chris, if you don’t mind, let’s just kind of brief synopsis of your other main points. Maybe I’ll stop and interrupt you here and there but under style and tone, I mean, basically, what is the main point that you could say if you had to summarize these six or seven bullet points in just a sentence or two, what would it be about style and tone that’s important in your briefs or probably any legal, any document?
Chris Schandevel: Yeah, to me, the most important one is to really be the voice of reason. So, everything that you write, when you’re thinking about your tone, you want to make sure that you’re coming across in a way that the judges and justices and law clerks reading it feel like they can trust you to be giving an objective approach, an objective analysis of the issues and the arguments, and the facts that you are the voice of reason. So, not engaging in a bunch of hyperbole, no inflammatory rhetoric, no name calling or personal attacks. Of course, you’re going to be representing a client. You’re going to be trying to persuade the court to see the case in a certain way but the goal of a lot of legal writing is you’re really selling something. You’re selling a position and you’re selling an outcome that you want the court to reach but you never want the reader, you never want the judges to feel like you’re selling them something, right?
Adriana Linares: Right. No eye rolling by the judges. An eye roll while reading your brief would be bad.
Chris Schandevel: Absolutely. Really, you want to give the court everything that it needs to feel like it’s coming to the conclusion that you want it to come to on its own. So, instead of hitting the court with this is why you should do this, and this, and this, and this, it’s look at all of these facts, look at all this law, it’s clearly supports this one outcome and letting the court feel like its reaching that conclusion for itself.
Adriana Linares: And you mentioned BriefCatch in your guide. So, tell us a little bit about that in case we have listeners who haven’t heard of it.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. So, BriefCatch is amazing. It’s an invaluable tool. It’s a software tool created by Ross Guberman who’s the author of the book ‘Point Made for Attorneys’. It’s a great brief writing book especially, I think, for a solo who doesn’t have a team of attorneys reviewing his or her work, it’s basically like having someone sitting next to you reviewing your work in real time. So, the way that it works, it’s a plug-in in Microsoft Word. You write the brief. At any point, you can open up the BriefCatch tab and you can click a button to have BriefCatch analyze your entire written work and give you suggestions about how to improve the writing of what you have so far. In addition to that, once you’ve gone through the process of running BriefCatch, making all style suggestions, there’s also an option to run basically a score check to see how you measure up and it grades you on a scale of 0 to 100 of how well your writing is in various categories. I think there are four or five different categories. So, I encourage folks to aim for scores of 90 and above. It is possible to get all of 100s. I’ve had briefs that do hit all 100s. I struggle the most with being punchy. Sometimes my sentences get a little bit too long but I run BriefCatch and it’s a reminder, “Okay, I need to insert some more punchier sentences, break up some of my longer sentences.” So, it’s just a great resource to use as you’re writing a brief.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. I love mentioning technology tools.
So, if you think of any more that would be helpful as we’re having this conversation, don’t be afraid to name names.
Chris Schandevel: Great.
Adriana Linares: The next section is structure. And I’ll just rattle off a couple of quick things that you say. Use shorter headings for factual sections. One-to-four-line complete sentences. Complete sentence headings. Use all caps only for section headings like table of authorities and argument. Don’t ever use all caps. I feel like that’s clear. So, as far as structure goes, is this the visual part of how you’re looking at the document or does it also help your tips and how someone’s reading? And sort of, again, what parts of this are part of the persuasion?
Chris Schandevel: So, it’s all persuasion. But yeah, different parts are more pathos or more ethos or more logos. I actually just finished teaching a CLE with TRT CLE that went through pathos, logos, ethos for each of these things on my list and kind of walked through which fits best with each of those different considerations. But I’ll say point headings are so important and they get written off by so many attorneys and just kind of mailed in but if you’re writing good point headings especially in your statement of facts and in your argument section, the benefit, one, in terms of persuasiveness, it helps you structure just the logical structure of the brief. So, it’s good for you as you’re writing. But two, it’s helpful for the reader to see what is that basic structure of your argument, what is that basic structure of your story, and where is the story going to go, where is the argument going to go so they know what to look for and what to watch for as they’re reading. And it’s important not only in the fact section and the argument section themselves but by writing good point headings, you’re writing a good table of contents. And the table of contents is your first real opportunity to brief to start persuading your readers.
And so, many attorneys overlook it and the table of contents is more or less worthless. It’s just conclusory statements that don’t give you any sense of what happened in the case or what your argument is going to be. So, the benefit of doing point headings in complete sentences is that it is creating a full logical structure for the table of contents so your judge can read that and fully understand exactly what you’re about to tell him or her and exactly what your argument is going to be.
Adriana Linares: And I will say this now in case we don’t talk about table of contents again, that thing should be automatically created for you by Microsoft Word. You should never be sitting there tapping and typing out a table of contents everyone, nor should your assistant. Word is magical.
Chris Schandevel: Right.
Adriana Linares: So, if you take Chris’ points and develop the document in a logical way and think about it, then your table of contents is going to plop in and you shouldn’t have to touch it once it goes in there.
Chris Schandevel: Absolutely, and if I can make one more point on that.
Adriana Linares: Yes.
Chris Schandevel: The benefit of it being automated is that as you’re writing the brief, you can check yourself to make sure that your logical structure is still cohesive and still holds by going scrolling all the way up, clicking update table of contents, reading your point headings there altogether in one place. I catch myself all the time, “Oh, I’ve got A, B, and C but now C feels out of place.” You might not realize it when you’re down in the document itself writing it but if you go back up the table of contents, if it’s automated, you can update it. You can check yourself to make sure that logical structure is still there.
Adriana Linares: And I want to say these tips are really valuable if you’re not writing a brief. If you’re writing a will or any contract, an article, anything, these are really important points so that your table of contents can be really helpful. So many times we don’t include a table of contents because we don’t know how to format the Word document in a way where it’s automated and it would definitely be way too much work to create it from scratch. So, please learn how to use Word’s table of contents feature which comes back to styles which we’re going to talk about in the last segment of the show.
So, the next couple of sections that you’ve got are paragraphs. Give us a quick little thought on just — there’s obvious points here but I like to hear you talk about building bridges between paragraphs. Keeping them short. What are guideposts that you mentioned?
Chris Schandevel: Sure. So, a guidepost is just giving the reader a guide, some signage that says, “This is what you’re about to read.” So, if you’re about to make three or four points, don’t just launch into them and have your reader reading along, asking themselves, “Is this all one big point? Am I going to get another point? How many points are they going to have here? When does this end?” Right? Tell the reader right upfront the decision below should be reversed for four reasons and then first, second, third, fourth. Let the reader kind of ponder, “Okay, I see the reasons. I know where this is going.” And then, you walk the reader through that in more detail. So, that is just in terms of making your brief readable.
So, judges are busy and judges are distracted. So, you want that brief and just like the rest of us, judges are distracted, cellphones, emails, phone calls, et cetera. So, you want it to be as easy for them to read as possible. So, using guideposts is really important for that.
The other thing on paragraphs, building bridges between paragraphs, so many times you read a brief and like a paragraph, it’s just a paragraph, it’s a paragraph, it’s paragraph. There’s a point, a point, a point, a point but you want to be able to show the reader how the paragraph you’re writing fits with the paragraph you just finished. And then, when you get towards the end of that paragraph, how it’s going to launch into the next paragraph. So, using connector words and phrases for the same reasons, launching into it by contrast, launching into something making the opposite point or showing the other side of the coin using conjunctions like “and” and “but” and “so” which when we get to words maybe we’ll talk more about that or maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit. But all those connector words are just very important just for the readability of the brief.
Adriana Linares: So, I love that you say avoid substantive footnotes because I see footnotes that have to go onto a second page oftentimes. Does that make you cringe?
Chris Schandevel: Yes. Oh, man, it makes me cringe so badly. I saw a brief recently where the entire page was a footnote.
Adriana Linares: I’ve seen these.
Chris Schandevel: It was a blank space above the line which is horrible. So, yeah, if you really want your brief to read like a book, you want the judge to be able to read it kind of start to finish, not lose their train of thought, then the thing about footnotes is you’re interrupting the reader. Think of it as I’m interrupting my reader and I am forcing them to move their eyes down to the bottom of the page or now that everything is read online digitally to actually scroll down. So, it maybe takes more time than it used to take when it was just a matter of diverting your eyes down to the bottom of the page and back up when you’ve got hard copy.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Chris Schandevel: Read something that’s related but not exactly on point and then scroll back up and remind themselves, “Okay, where were we? What were we talking about? Where are we going?” You just lose so much when you put substantive information in the footnotes. So, I had a mentor early on she would always say, “Above the line, above the line, above the line”, on my footnotes. If you can fit it above, if you need it, if it’s worth including, you can find a place for it above the line.
Adriana Linares: Perfect.
Chris Schandevel: If you find yourself not able to put it up there, then maybe you just need to consider taking it all together.
Adriana Linares: Excellent. So, let’s talk about quotations and citations. What are your main points as far as making a double indented quote, I imagine, and citations specially? That’s another one people really struggle with citations.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. So, on the double indented quotes, block quotes. I say avoid block quotes like the plague.
Adriana Linares: Nice.
Chris Schandevel: Block quote is just an invitation to the reader to skim or skip what you’ve written there. And unfortunately, attorneys see the block quote as, “This is the most important information I need to give the reader all of it so I’m going to put it in a block quote.” But it has the exact opposite effect. It doesn’t get read. So, find a way to avoid using block quotes. Break it up into multiple sentences with the citations in between. It’s very important.
Adriana Linares: You know who you just made really happy?
Chris Schandevel: Who’s that?
Adriana Linares: Every single attorney that doesn’t know how to create a double indented quote in Word.
Chris Schandevel: Excellent. There you go. You can completely get around that.
Adriana Linares: Now, you don’t even have to learn that part.
Chris Schandevel: You don’t need it. Exactly. I’ll also say at kind of a higher level, don’t lose your voice when you’re quoting a court. And what I mean by that is, I see so many times attorneys just quoting the court and using words like, “We have held that the standard of review in this case is et cetera, et cetera.” But the, “We have held.” I mean, the advocate writing that isn’t part of the court. They’re not part of the we, right? So, it’s much better instead of losing your voice to meld your voice with the court’s voice. So, I would change that quote to say, “This court has held” and then you go on to say what the court has held because you really want the reader to — even if it’s just subconsciously to hear your voice and the court’s voice being one. And so, that’s an important key to that. You asked also about citations. I’ll share a favorite new trick of mine.
Adriana Linares: Okay.
Chris Schandevel: It’s called the cleaned up parenthetical. Have you heard of the cleaned up parenthetical?
Adriana Linares: No, but I can’t wait.
Chris Schandevel: Yeah. So, I’m sure you’ve seen the clunky parentheticals that say internal citations and quotation marks omitted, brackets altered, et cetera, like it gets very long and clunky.
Adriana Linares: It hurts my eyes.
Chris Schandevel: It does. Right.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Chris Schandevel: So, the cleaned up parenthetical is this new creation by an attorney a few years ago. His name is Jack Metzler and I may be mispronouncing his name but he created it basically to take the place of those clunky parentheticals. So, instead of saying internal citations and quotation marks omitted, you just say, “cleaned up.” And what cleaned up signals is that you have converted —
Adriana Linares: You literally write “cleaned up”?
Chris Schandevel: I literally write “cleaned up” in the parenthetical and I’m in good company because it’s been done in hundreds and I think now thousands of court opinions including the U.S. Supreme Court has started using it in some of their cases as well.
Adriana Linares: Well, if they’re doing it.
Chris Schandevel: Exactly. I don’t know that it’s Bluebook approved quite yet, maybe in time. But basically you use it when the source that you’re quoting is itself quoting a prior source. And you don’t need the reader to know about the prior source, you just want them to know about the source that you’re quoting. If the source you’re quoting has had to add some brackets or add some ellipses or some internal citations or quotation marks to change the source that its quoting, you’re just removing the extra stuff that the source you’re quoting has added.
Adriana Linares: It’s cleaned up.
Chris Schandevel: Yeah. You’re cleaning it up. You’re not using it to make your own changes and hide those. If you make your own change, if you delete a word, you use an ellipsis. If you change punctuation, you use a bracket. But if you can clean up the source that you’re quoting without losing anything and without having to do a very clunky parenthetical at the end of it.
Adriana Linares: Love it. Can we talk about sentences for a second?
Chris Schandevel: Sure.
Adriana Linares: Because this is the next section. We could talk about it for hours, probably, but your very first point only write sentences that you could easily speak, is so critical; and let me just tell you why I feel like this. I have to read a lot of things out loud that other people write. And when I go to read them out loud, I can tell it’s the first time they are being read out loud because they are so awkward to say, they’re uncomfortable to hear. And this might be part of my old Toastmasters training where the first thing they teach you is, doesn’t matter what you wrote, say it out loud, read it to yourself out loud.
And I think I’ve often given the tip that Microsoft Word now even has a Read Aloud feature, which a lot of times your eyes will trick you and your brain, you’re busy, you’re tired. So I have told many attorneys, “just turn it on in the background” because if something is misspoken, even if it’s a little bit robotic, if it sounds weird, your ear is going to catch it. You’re going to go back to the document.
So, tell us a little bit, a couple of your best tips, and these are all great tips. Don’t start sentences with cumbersome connectors, “nevertheless”, “accordingly”, “however” – “whereas”, one of my favorites.
Chris Schandevel: Yeah, I’ll take a beat on that one actually, if you want to start there.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Chris Schandevel: I don’t know where attorneys have gotten in our heads that we cannot start a sentence with conjunctions like “and”, “but”, and “so”. But if you read any non-legal writing, you’ll see tons of sentences starting with “and”, “but”, and “so”. I think it goes back to in grammar school, your First Grade teacher is teaching you to write for the first time, a lot of us heard, don’t start with “ands” and “buts” and “sos”. I think that was because not because it was grammatically wrong, but when you’re six, you write a story, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. So they were trying to beat that out of us, but as a result, so many of us have kept it, and so instead we say, “nevertheless”, “accordingly”, “consequently”, and it just is so clunky and slows down the sentence, and it becomes so much less punchy and persuasive.
I’ll state one of my favorite short sentences, so connecting the length of sentences, I say, “vary your sentence length”. So some longer sentences, some shorter sentences, some medium length. One of my favorite short sentences is the sentence, “but that’s wrong”. I will lay out the other side’s position, and instead of launching into this lengthy retort, I will start with, “but that’s wrong”.
Adriana Linares: Boom.
Chris Schandevel: And then I’ll explain it. But that punchy starting “but that’s wrong” just signals, like, confidence and clarity. Starting with a conjunction makes it punchier. If I had said, “however, that is wrong”, you lose a lot of force there. Also the use of a contraction. I know I’m jumping from sentences to words.
Adriana Linares: Perfect, no problem.
Chris Schandevel: I’m a fan of using some contractions in our legal writing, assuming the contraction makes the writing sound more natural.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Chris Schandevel: And again, it goes back to writing sentences that you could easily speak. I wouldn’t say, “but that is wrong”. It’s just too much. It’s too wordy. But I would say “but that’s wrong”. And so, there it’s more natural to use a contraction. And I think it’s perfectly okay for us to use some contractions to make our writing more readable and more enjoyable to read, and as a result, more punchy and more persuasive.
Adriana Linares: Let’s just cover one more sort of along those lines, which I also love. Avoid legal jargon. Now, Chris, how many lawyers are going to say, “it’s a legal brief”, how am I supposed to avoid legal jargon?
Chris Schandevel: Right, so admittedly, when you’re dealing with Case Law and you’re dealing with a test or a legal standard, there’s going to be some phrases that you just have to include, because that’s the law, that’s the test. But attorneys, we don’t limit ourselves to using jargon when we’re forced to. We use it in the intro of our brief, “Comes now”, “Appellant”, so and so, “hereinafter” — I was reading a brief recently, the very first part of the intro was “Comes now, Rihanna Michelle Rich (hereinafter Rich)”, as if the reader wouldn’t know that it’s the same person you’re talking about when is their last name?
But we get so wedded to doing things the way that we’ve seen other attorneys do them. And I think a lot of us get to law school and we assume that, okay, well, now I have to learn how to write like a lawyer. So I’ve got to throw out everything I’ve ever learned about what good writing is and change my writing to write like a lawyer. What I’ve learned since law school is, okay, now I need to unlearn what I think writing like a lawyer means and looks like and sounds like. I’m a big fan of the plain English movement for attorneys.
Adriana Linares: Me too.
Chris Schandevel: Just getting us to write with regular words, and I think judges and our readers just appreciate that so much. It makes our brief so much more compelling and more persuasive.
Adriana Linares: It’s such a refreshing way to hear about legal writing, because you are still writing like a lawyer. You are still making a compelling argument. You are still doing your job. You can just do it a little more modern. I’m going to use the word “modern” because I feel like everything you’re saying is just modern, but you’re not destroying in any way the message that you’re trying to convey with your product, your document.
Chris Schandevel: Right. If anything, in reality, you’re just trimming off all the fat that distracts from the legal argument that you’re trying to make, cutting out all of the clutter so the reader can hear your actual argument.
Adriana Linares: Let’s talk about words and punctuation, and just real quick, a couple tips on words, and I would like to know your thoughts on the Oxford comma and how many spaces after a period, please.
Chris Schandevel: Okay. Those two are easy. The Oxford comma is a must for legal writers.
Adriana Linares: It’s a must.
Chris Schandevel: It’s a must. You lose so much meaning and add so much ambiguity by not doing the Oxford comma. I mean, millions of dollars have been lost in cases over the lack of an Oxford comma. So it’s so important. No debate.
One space or two spaces; I’m a one spacer, and I don’t think there’s any debate there either, if you check the style guides. I don’t know why we attorneys. Again, another thing we insist on continuing to do that we developed at some point.
Adriana Linares: We developed it during the days of the typewriters when everything was monospaced. It’s hard to get attorneys to believe that the computer can do magical things to spacing to make it easier, more comfortable for the eyes to read and see. I’m with you on both of those.
Chris Schandevel: Excellent. I’m also a big fan of — I put on there, hyphenate, all phrasal adjectives. That’s something that I think we don’t always do a good job of, so free speech rights, for example. Free speech is being used as an adjective there. It’s a phrase, but it’s an adjective, so it gets a hyphen, and there’s a lot of ambiguity that gets added just by not using the hyphen, and the hyphen removes a lot of that. Is this a free write? Is it a speech right? Is free speech rights together? Use the hyphen. Remove that ambiguity. There might be places where you’re not used to using a hyphen, so it might take some adjusting. But once you start doing it and realize how much clearer your writing becomes, I hope your listeners will become a big believer in it, just like I am.
Adriana Linares: I took a paralegal course a long, long time ago. Maybe it was a legal assistant. It was legal assistant course. And that one specifically stuck with me, where they taught us that say the sentence without the second word doesn’t make sense. Say the sentence without the first word doesn’t make sense. If it doesn’t make sense without either word, you got to throw the hyphen in.
Chris Schandevel: Yeah. And part of making the brief more readable, you want that reading process to be as smooth as possible for the reader. Without the hyphen, there’s that slightest pause of indecision, of lack of clarity, of not knowing what you’re trying to communicate. You want to remove every single slight pause like that as possible. And that’s just one easy way to do that.
Adriana Linares: I love that. You want to remove the indecision.
Chris Schandevel: Absolutely.
Adriana Linares: ‘Don’t Make Me Think’. Isn’t that a famous book?
Chris Schandevel: Yes.
Adriana Linares: It’s a famous book. ‘Don’t Make Me Think.’ Okay, let’s do these with our briefs from now on. Any other tips on these topics that we’ve covered so far that are your favorites that you want to make sure and add before we move on to our next segment?
Chris Schandevel: Sure. Let me hit another point on punctuation. This is a very tiny granular point, but it’s so important. Learn to use the non-breaking space. Hugely important, just to spell it out for folks. Control+Shift+Spacebar will create a space between two letters or between two words that’s non-breaking, which means that if the first word or letter falls at the end of a line, it’ll remain together with the word or the letter that comes after it and won’t get broken up.
Oftentimes that’s not important, but there are times if you’re writing an ellipses, you’ve got two periods and you’re not doing non-breaking spaces. That third period ends up on the subsequent line just hanging out by itself. That should never happen. Non-breaking spaces helps you avoid that. I use it after section symbols when I’m giving a code section to make sure the symbol doesn’t get disconnected from the site. After numerals, I’m giving a list. One, two, three.
You don’t want a one with parens hanging out there by itself at the end of a line. You want it connected to the word that comes after. So non-breaking spaces are huge.
Relatedly optional hyphens are very important and useful. So an optional hyphen, unlike a regular hyphen, if you insert a regular hyphen into a sentence, it’s just all into a word. It’s always going to be there. The hyphen stays. An optional hyphen is for when you’ve come to the end of a line and you’ve got a really long word and it’s too long to fit at the end of your line, so it’s getting bumped down to the next line. You can add an optional hyphen so that that word gets broken up a little bit. Make sure you added a place that’s a clean syllable break, but that will help avoid there being large gaps at the end of your lines. If you’re doing left justify, it avoids creating big spaces between words if you’re doing full justify. And the benefit of the optional hyphen is if you end up not needing it, if the whole word gets bumped down to a subsequent line, the hyphen disappears, which is also so important. You don’t want a random hyphen in one of your words because you didn’t use the optional hyphen. So that’s also very important.
Adriana Linares: Remind us the keyboard shortcut on a Windows machine for a non-breaking space.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. So the non-breaking space is Control+Shift+Spacebar, and the keyboard shortcut for an optional hyphen is just Control+Hyphen and I’m looking for my Style Guide to confirm that because I’m pretty sure that that’s correct.
Adriana Linares: Yeah.
Chris Schandevel: Okay, good deal.
Adriana Linares: And it exists for Mac. It’s probably Command instead of Control, but you can always just Google non-breaking space word for Mac to make sure you have the right keys on the Mac as well.
So those were great, and I think just to clarify one real quick, the non-breaking space everyone would keep like July 6 comma from being at the end of one line and 2023 starting at the next line. And then if you do happen to turn your paragraph markers on, which I encourage everyone to turn their paragraph markers on when they’re working in drafting a document, it’s going to look like the degree symbol instead of the little dot that you see when you normally see a space. So it’s a lot of visual ways that Word can help you work some of these.
All right, well, let’s take a quick break. Thank you so much. Really, we did the speed version of your guide, but you’ve got so many great tips and so many good links. I’m sure everyone’s going to go and download it and be able to pick up many more tips than the ones you and I just gave. We’ll be right back. We’re going to come back and talk about Microsoft Word and formatting.
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Adriana Linares: All right, everyone, we’re back for the last segment of my conversation with Chris Schandevel, “The Brief Writing Ninja” as you’ll find him on LinkedIn.
He put out a legal Style Guide that I was very attracted to when I saw it go by on LinkedIn. We’ve covered a high-level overview of the guide. Please go download it and really dive into it.
But I saved the first section for last because this is really where my spidey senses started tingling and getting excited, about how important it is to be able to be a good Microsoft Word user.
So Chris, in this section, you talk about styles, italics, bolding, underlying, keeping lines together.
We just talked about non-breaking spaces. I don’t know how anyone would be able to develop a beautiful brief without having really good Word skills.
Chris Schandevel: Oh, you have to be able to not just be functional in Microsoft Word, but be really efficient and effective at using all the tools that Microsoft Word has to offer, in order to write, not just a brief that has the right words and right arguments in it, but a brief that is as persuasive as it can possibly be on all three of those key components, the pathos, ethos, and the logos. Because if you turn in a brief that has all the right arguments, but because you don’t know how to work Microsoft Word, it’s just a mess in terms of formatting. From the very get go before the judge even reads a word of it, they’re going to be likely to doubt what you’re arguing and what you’re saying. Because if you can’t even take the time to learn how to use Microsoft Word and to format your paragraphs correctly, for example, did you take the time to do the legal research and to check all of your cases and to make sure you’re making the right argument? So it is so important.
Adriana Linares: I would just hug you if you were in front of me right now. No, it’s true. It’s silly things that sometimes attorneys don’t realize, like your footnote, your very now short footnote, above the line footnote might not be the same font as the rest of your document.
Chris Schandevel: Right.
Adriana Linares: Why? That’s a really easy fix in Word.
Chris Schandevel: Right.
Adriana Linares: So let me just hit a couple of your points, and definitely another argument waiting to happen among listeners is the font that you choose.
Chris Schandevel: Sure.
Adriana Linares: So you really like Century Schoolbook? Tell us why.
Chris Schandevel: I do. So Century Schoolbook is the font of choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, so you’re in very good company if you’re using it. It’s also the font of choice for the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office. So it’s a font that they use too. It’s a font that is permitted by the local rules for, I think, all of the Circuit Courts of Appeals and probably a lot of State Supreme Courts as well.
The thing that is so nice about Century Schoolbook, and it gets back to what I was saying earlier. You want your brief to be as easy to read as possible.
Adriana Linares: Pleasing to the eye as much as it is to the mind.
Chris Schandevel: Yes. Century Schoolbook was designed for use in what? School books. It was designed for grade school textbooks, and so it was meant to be read and carefully digested and appreciated, et cetera, exactly what you want a judge to do when reading your brief. Contrast that with Times New Roman. Times New Roman was developed for newspapers. Newspapers serve a very different purpose than books. Newspapers are meant to be skimmed quickly and thrown away. You don’t want your judges skimming your brief quickly and throwing them away, right? You want to encourage your judge to slow down and read the brief carefully, and it has to do with the way that the letters are squished together a little bit more in Times New Roman so they can fit more lines and more words within those columns on the newspapers. If you’re just defaulting to Times New Roman because that’s what most people do, you don’t probably realize it, but you are incentivizing your judges to read your brief quickly instead of slowing down and fully grasping and understanding what you’re trying to communicate. That’s why a font like Century Schoolbook is so much more preferable to other fonts.
Adriana Linares: That is so interesting. It adds just an element of psychology to writing these documents that I don’t think we think about a lot. For me, when I’m trying to get them off of Times New Roman, I’m saying, look, it was invented for newspapers and the font was always the same size. Today, when you send a document to someone else, you have no idea if they’re reading it on their 7-inch phone, their 70-inch screen in their conference room, and the way those letters, space and layout on these different size displays really matters. Times New Roman was not designed to scale to displays. So great, great tip on Century Schoolbook. Number three —
Chris Schandevel: Yes.
Adriana Linares: — which I would beg to argue that this should be number one point.
Chris Schandevel: Sure.
Adriana Linares: But that’s just me is Styles.
Chris Schandevel: Yes.
Adriana Linares: So let’s talk about why those are important. I’m just going to say, in my experience, what typically happens is, let’s say there’s a bigger firm that has some sort of aid that helps them create style sets and their documents are easy to develop because maybe they have a Word processing department. Then an attorney who doesn’t know what styles are, how to use styles gets frustrated and will say to the assistant, “Get those styles out of there. Just get rid of everything and make it all Times New Roman”. They literally will destroy the aid that was given to them when a document was created with Styles. So tell us from your perspective why learning Styles is important, how they’re not that hard?
Chris Schandevel: Sure.
Adriana Linares: And how they can help you with all of these tips that you’ve given us in visually creating a beautiful document?
Chris Schandevel: Sure. Yeah. So I don’t consider myself the Microsoft Word expert or like the Styles expert. I don’t know every in and out to how they work, but I’ve learned them well enough that I know how to make them work for me and make them work for what I need them to do. So essentially, Styles is the way in which you create the formatting settings, the font settings, the indentation settings, all of that for different parts of your document.
So your body text, you want to look one way, your main point headings, you want to look a different way.
Adriana Linares: Through the whole document.
Chris Schandevel: Through the whole document, and you want them to be consistent, right? So the word “argument” titling your Argument section, you want to look the same formatting wise as the word — the phrase “Table of Contents” titling your table of contents page, right? You want them to be the same. And sometimes you’re working on a brief and you realize, you know what, this heading, it would look better if it had a little bit more space above it or below it or if I’d like to indent it a little bit more.
Styles allows you to make that change in a single place within the document and then apply that change to every similar part of the document like that throughout the entire brief. Whereas otherwise you’d make the change in one place. You have to remember, where are all the other places where I did a point heading like this? Let me remember, go back and make the change in all those other places. You might forget some, it just takes forever for example.
Adriana Linares: You might just give up because it’s so long. You’re like, “Oh, screw it, I’m never going to look”. No, we never say “screw it” to our legal documents.
Chris Schandevel: No. And the other thing is, if you say, “Oh, well, my legal assistant knows how to do all this stuff, I’ll let them make it look better on the backend”. One, you’re creating way more work than necessary for your legal assistant. So instead of catching typos and citation errors and misquotes in your brief, they’re busy trying to change the indentation on a point heading because you messed it all up because you don’t know how to use Styles. So that’s number one.
Adriana Linares: Well, it’s actually your number three. It’s my number one. No, I’m kidding.
Chris Schandevel: There’s a benefit there for your paralegals.
Adriana Linares: Agree.
Chris Schandevel: Also just in terms of making the brief look nice as you’re writing it. You need to be able to use Styles in order to change some of that formatting, because otherwise you’re not going to realize if you’ve got a point heading that’s hanging out on the bottom of a page by itself, right? Unless you’re changing those Styles and able to edit those styles as you go.
Adriana Linares: So, if I may just take a moment. Styles can be really hard for people to grasp, but this is the way I explain them. Think of an orchestra and you’ve got your brass instruments, you’ve got your percussion instruments, you’ve got your string instruments. They all are dressed the exact same way so that when you’re looking at the brass section, you’re like, “Oh, that’s the brass section. They’re all centered, all caps, underlined, they’re size 14”. Then you look over at the percussion section and they’ve got a 0.5 tab, they are justified and they’ve got double-spacing.
So what happens is, if you decide that the percussion section should actually have a space-and-a-half as opposed to double space, but you say, do double space in your briefs, instead of going and tapping every single one of those band members and saying, “Hey, go change your uniform, I’m going to need you to be a space-and-a-half”, what you do is you wave your wand and you say, “Okay, everyone in the brass section will now be 16-point.” And in one step you change the look and feel of that entire document and all of those sections, those parts of your document that are wearing that uniform.
It’s an easy button. You collect font and paragraph formatting into one button. It’s called a Style. So it could be your Heading 1 style, your Heading 2 style. And it breaks it down like that. But it is critical in helping you efficiently and beautifully and consistently create especially long documents.
Chris Schandevel: It is. And I’ve got a couple — and that was an excellent summary, better than I could have done. I’ve also got a couple of links within the Style Guide to where your listeners can download the Style Guide, click the links, and learn more about how to use Styles because sometimes you have to really see it in order to get it and some of those links will help with that.
Adriana Linares: Great. Let’s encourage everyone to make sure they have gotten the document and click through all those links.
Chris Schandevel: Yes.
Adriana Linares: A lot of people ask me about Widow/Orphan Control and they want to go turn it off. How do you feel about Widow/Orphan Control? It’s a bullet point here.
Chris Schandevel: You cannot turn it off. And if anything, I would say if you’re just using Orphan and Widow Control, you’re not doing enough to make your briefs as readable and pleasing to the eye as you can. To me, I am pretty — so Orphan/Widow Control is you don’t want the first line of a paragraph to be by itself at the bottom of a page and you also don’t want the last line of a paragraph to be the first line at the top of a page, right? That’s Orphan/Widow Control.
But with just Orphan/Widow Control on, you might get two lines by themselves at the top of a page or two lines by themselves at the bottom of the page. I don’t even think two lines looks good. I try to find ways to write around having two lines by themselves in a paragraph.
Adriana Linares: Sure.
Chris Schandevel: Because it just doesn’t look clean and you’re forcing the reader — you only give the reader two lines, which isn’t a lot of information to keep in their head, to then disconnect that from the rest of the paragraph. So I will either add a little extra space or more often than not, I will just find a way to cut some words so that my paragraphs fit better, so I don’t have those two lines going above or beyond the page break.
Adriana Linares: That goes right along with keep with next and keep lines together. And so what you do with like a heading style, so argument, opening, closing, those headings, you control and you say, “Okay, this heading should always be kept with the next paragraph” so that you don’t have those uncomfortable visual breaks. When you’re not using Styles and controlling the flow of a document, you or your assistant ends up having to enter a lot of weird hard returns, but then when you’re done with the document, you end up having to remove a lot of them because maybe you’ve edited the document in between, and then that also throws off your table of contents. So if you can make the document understand through Styles how you want the whole structure of it to lay out and use Styles, you’re doing yourself a huge favor, your assistant a huge favor, your table of contents is going to be beautiful. So I think, Chris, we should end this by encouraging everyone to learn about Microsoft Word Styles.
Chris Schandevel: Absolutely. Styles is incredibly key, and then it’s becoming more proficient in Word more broadly, it’s so important.
I see right now all the rage on LinkedIn and the folks that I follow is AI. How can I use AI to do X, Y, and Z? How can I get AI to make my job easier, to make my briefs better, et cetera? And I want to say, you know what? Just invest in taking a Microsoft Word course or just spend a couple of hours playing around with it and learning new skills within that program, and you will improve your brief writing by leaps and bounds as compared to trying to go out there and figure out what this AI thing is. That’s something we will all learn in time, I’m sure, but there is so much to be gained just by investing and becoming more proficient and using the tools we have available right now.
Adriana Linares: I totally agree. And I will tell my listeners that if you go to my website, lawtechpartners.com, I regularly give one-hour Microsoft Word sessions with the basics because I can never get past the basics because I’m always just trying to get attorneys to understand the basics, but that’s one good place that you can go and learn about Word.
And Deborah Savadra has been a guest on New Solo in the past. She has the legalofficeguru.com website. She has “Learn As You Go, Learn As You Want” courses that you can buy on Microsoft Word. I always do mine live because I like the interaction and I like people to be able to ask questions. But if you like to learn by yourself, you can always go visit the Legal Office Guru. Deborah is wonderful. She has really great sessions on Word, and that’s a great place to start.
Well, Chris, I cannot thank you enough for your time, I really know how busy you are and really, really appreciate it. This is going to be a really popular episode, so let’s remind everyone where they can find you on LinkedIn.
Chris Schandevel: Sure. Just look for Chris Schandevel on LinkedIn. You can give me a follow or send me a connection request. I love connecting with other attorneys. And you can also find the hashtag that I use, #briefwritingninja. You can follow that hashtag specifically to get all my legal writing tips and tricks in your home feed. Look forward to connecting with your listeners. It’s been such a pleasure to be on with you today, Adriana.
Adriana Linares: Thank you so much, Chris. I absolutely appreciate it.
Well, everyone, thank you so much for listening to another episode of New Solo. If you like what you’ve heard today, make sure you share this episode with your friends and your colleagues. I think a lot of attorneys and their assistants, by the way, will really appreciate all the information you shared with us.
Thanks, everyone, and see you next month on New Solo.