Ten Tips to Torture-Free Legal Writing For Paralegals

Traditionally, the task of legal writing has been assumed by the attorney. Increasingly now, however, paralegals are being asked by their supervising attorneys to prepare a variety of legal documents. Some documents are created for internal purposes, relied upon by the attorney in preparation for litigation or an appeal. Other documents are reviewed by the attorney, revised, and ultimately filed with the court. In law offices of all sizes, it is not uncommon for experienced paralegals to write case briefs, research memoranda, motions, memoranda of points and authorities, and even appellate briefs.

Legal writing can be intimidating for the most seasoned legal professional. Approaching your next legal writing assignment does not need to be a daunting experience if you can remember this pneumonic device:

Every Outstanding Paralegal Knows How to Write Well and Effectively.

The first letter of each word corresponds with a tip to help propel your legal writing skills. If you follow these ten tips, you will be well on your way to torture-free legal writing!

Tip #1 – Establish a G.O.A.L. for your writing project.
Before you put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, you must first gather some essential information. This information is the GOAL of your project.

* G stands for the ground rules for your project. Whether you play golf, Monopoly, or checkers, a thorough understanding of the rules of the game is paramount. The same principle holds true in legal writing. Familiarize yourself with the document format that should be followed, the type font and font size that are required, and the margins that are acceptable. If you are writing a document that will be used internally, be certain to follow the format preferred by your attorney. Use samples of previously submitted work as a guide in completing your assignment. If you are preparing an appellate court brief, you should know the procedure for incorporating references to the record and the transcript. If you have any questions about the technical requirements for your document, ask your attorney or consult the local rules of the court where the document will be filed. Or, call the clerk of court. Because failure to follow the court rules may be grounds for the clerk to reject your filing, it is always prudent to ask questions and get it right the first time.

* O stands for the objective of your project. Now that you know the ground rules, you need to know how to “win” the game. What is the purpose of your assignment? Are you writing to inform or to persuade? Are you writing a research memorandum to inform your attorney about the client’s viable defenses under state law? Or, are you writing to persuade the court to deny the opposing party’s motion for summary judgment? Understanding the objective of your project enables you to better approach the way you conduct your research. Keeping the objective in mind also helps you focus and structure your writing, safeguarding against the likelihood that key information will be overlooked or omitted.

* A stands for your audience. Whether you are writing to your attorney, another paralegal, opposing counsel, the client, or to the court, it is important to tailor your writing style, tone, and formality in a manner appropriate for your intended audience. For example, the use of contractions is generally considered too informal when writing to the court, but may be acceptable when writing a research memorandum to your attorney.

* L stands for the limitations for your project. When your attorney gives you an assignment, you should confirm the due date. If you are preparing a document that will ultimately be filed with the court, you should also know the filing deadline. Depending upon the type of document you are preparing, it will be important to know the applicable statute of limitations for the cause(s) of action being asserted. Additionally, you should consult the court rules for any restrictions on the number of pages your document may include and the number of exhibits that may be appended.

Tip #2 – Organize your research materials.
Hours of research are meaningless if that seminal case you need is buried somewhere under the piles of paper and stacks of folders on your desk. For easy organization and worry-free retrieval, hole-punch your research materials and file them by category in a three-ring binder. Use color-coded tabs and specially marked dividers to separate your materials into primary and secondary authority, mandatory and persuasive authority, and federal and state authority.

In the upper right-hand corner of the first page of each case you pull, note the client-matter number, the date you retrieved the case, and the legal principle(s) for which the case is important. When you file the case and need to pull it later, you won’t have to re-read it to recollect why you printed it out in the first place. Create an index or table of contents of your research materials and update it as necessary. Save the document on your PC and place a hard copy in the binder.

Tip #3- Prepare an outline.
After you’ve completed your research, but before you begin writing, prepare an outline of the information you will include in your document. Use the required format for your document as a tool in creating your outline. For instance, if you are writing an appellate brief, your outline should mirror each section of the brief, including the statement of the issues, statement of the facts, and argument components. In your outline, for each issue you intend to discuss, include an IRAC (Issue-Rule-Analysis-Conclusion) breakdown.

If you are writing a legal memorandum or appellate brief, list the major points you will address in your argument section and the subheadings that will go under these points. Remember that stronger arguments should appear before weaker ones. After you have prepared a preliminary outline, break it down further into paragraph levels. Briefly identify the topic of each paragraph and list the information that will be included in the paragraph along with the applicable references to authority you will cite. This process may sound laborious, but investing significant time to prepare your outline will actually save you time in the long run.

Tip #4 – Keep your writing simple and short.
With apologies to your college English instructor, legal writing ain’t about using flowery phrases or melodic prose to convey your ideas. On the contrary, legal writing is about reducing the complex to the simple. The abstract to the concrete. And the superfluous to the necessary. The line in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, where he writes of walking with kings but not losing the common touch, sums up what should be your approach to legal writing. Even though you may be addressing attorneys and judges with multiple advanced degrees and countless years of legal experience, you should write your document in such a way that the average person can understand your message. Assume the person who will read your document has never attended law school or graduated from a paralegal program. Keep your writing simple, but don’t sacrifice precision. State the facts, raise the issues, support your argument with the authority, and end with an appropriate “call to action.” In other words…get to the point!

Good legal writing is also short, or concise. Avoid using multisyllabic words when a shorter word choice will prove just as effective. Substitute a single word for a lengthier phrase. “Filed an action against” becomes “sue” and “with regard to” becomes “concerning.” Write in short sentences (25 words or less) to heighten your reader’s understanding. Likewise, shorter paragraphs help your reader better digest your message. You don’t eat a steak all at once. Rather, you take your time, savoring it piece by piece in several bites. Similarly, you don’t want to overwhelm the reader with a paragraph that extends three-quarters of the page. Divide longer paragraphs into more palatable two or three short paragraphs.

Tip #5 – Hold the reader’s interest.
Good writing captures the reader’s interest at the beginning, builds upon that interest throughout the middle, and satiates that interest at the end. Effective legal writing is no different. As you construct your document, remove all barriers and roadblocks to holding your reader’s attention. I suggest you include a built-in navigation device. At the beginning of your document, give your reader a roadmap of where you are going and explain how you intend to get there. Throughout your document, insert mile markers to orient your reader as to how the section he or she is reading fits within the bigger picture.

Prevent reading-induced hypnosis by varying the length of your sentences and paragraphs. Use headings and subheadings as appropriate to break up huge blocks of text on the page. Incorporate sufficient white space to give your readers a visual (and mental) resting place. Emphasize key points or phrases with special formatting such as italics and bold, but be careful not to overdo a good thing. Use bulleted lists as appropriate. Strategically placed graphs, charts, and tables add substantive value to your writing and also help further engage your reader.

Tip #6 – Tie it together with topic sentences and transition bridges.
The previous tip discussed the importance of providing your reader with direction at the outset of your document and guideposts along the way. An effective way to accomplish this is to start each paragraph with a topic sentence to introduce the subject you intend to discuss. End each paragraph with a transition bridge to the next paragraph. Words such as “however,” “moreover,” and “in addition” can help create a seamless transition between independent, but related, thoughts. Using transition language as you move from one point to the next contributes to the overall cohesiveness of your writing.

Tip #7 – Write in active voice.
It is always a good rule of thumb to use active voice in any kind of writing. To do this, arrange your sentence so that the subject performs the action expressed by the verb. In the majority of instances, a sentence written using active voice is more clear and direct than one written using passive voice. Notwithstanding this general principle, there may be times when the facts in your case dictate the use of passive voice. For example, in a criminal case where your attorney represents the accused, you certainly would not want to write, “The defendant assaulted the victim.” Instead, you would write, “The victim was assaulted.”

Tip #8 – Write in positive voice.
Use a glass half-full approach in your legal writing by using positive voice. Change negative statements into affirmative statements. Compare “The defendant should not be prohibited from asserting a contributory negligence.” with “The defendant must be permitted to assert a contributory negligence defense.” Notice how the second sentence reads better and is more direct.

Tip #9 – Avoid legalese and legal jargon whenever possible.
As creatures of habit, we often find it challenging to embrace new ways of doing things. We have a tendency to fall back on the familiar. Thankfully, the foothold this kind of resistance has gained in the area of legal writing is going the way of the pet rock. Law school professors and legal practitioners alike are eschewing the use of archaic legal jargon and legalese. So should you. Legalese and jargon only function to obscure the meaning of your message. Include them only if absolutely necessary. (If you come across an “absolutely necessary” instance, let me know.)

Tip #10 – Edit your writing for the 7 Cs.
After you complete your first draft, carefully review your work and edit for the following:

* Clarity – Aim for specificity. Add information if needed to clarify your point. Remove information that makes your point muddy. Rephrase or re-work passages to ensure your point is conveyed clearly and meaningfully.

* Completeness – Use the outline you prepared from Tip #3 as a checklist to determine if your document is complete. Review your document to see if you included the required elements and necessary information.

* Conciseness – Eliminate unnecessary words and fillers. Remove redundancies. Remember to keep your sentences and paragraphs simple, short, and to the point.

* Concreteness – Eliminate lengthy legal phrases and substitute shorter concrete words and phrases. “Apprehended the suspect” becomes “arrested Mrs. Johnson.”

* Consistency – Read through your writing to ensure your use of tenses and pronouns is consistent from beginning to end. Check to see that you used the same word or phrase each time you referred to the same concept. For example, if you use the word “terminated” to characterize what happened to your client in the first section of your writing, you’ll want to change any references to your client being “dismissed” or “fired” that appear later in your document.

* Continuity – Review your work for organizational continuity. Sentences and paragraphs should flow logically from one to the next. Read the first and last sentences of each paragraph. If you are able to glean the major points by reading these sentences alone, your writing has excellent continuity.

* Correctness – Verify the legal authority you cited is still valid. Double-check your citation format. Review your work to see that you have accurately stated the facts. Finally, carefully proofread your work for spelling, grammar, typographical and other kinds of errors that will detract from your message.

After you have made these revisions, ask a friend or family member who does not have a legal background to read your work. Then, listen to the feedback. Make a second round of revisions as necessary. And then? Breathe easy because you are done. Congratulations.

Copyright © 2009 MARIGOLD CONSULTING. All rights reserved.

Legally Eliminate Debt – If You Have Over $10K in Debt You Can Get Rid Up to 70%

Most defaulters according to bank records are unsecured liability holders. They do not pay their dues on time as they do not have to lose anything. To get unsecured liabilities, you do not need to submit anything as a guarantee. All the bank requires are proper documents to confirm details regarding your financial status. For instance, you need to deposit your salary statement to get a credit card limit. If your credit card bill has crossed the limit of ten thousand dollars, legally eliminate debt and get an easy exit from the situation. You can legally eliminate debt but you have a time constraint.

How to identify illegitimate companies?

Illegal companies have some common points which make their identification very easy. Most of them require advance payments and fool the customers. Once you pay them in advance, they run away and you lose your money as well. The easiest way to prevent this is that you should never pay in advance until you trust the company completely. A lot of settlement companies demand you to pay upfront but they are not illegitimate. Have a look at the progress of the company to clear your doubts.

· Track records and track charts

If you need to see whether a debt relief services can really produce commendable results, have a look at the track charts and track records. These records show you how much a capability debt relief services company has. These companies exaggerate a lot of facts to convince the customer as well. Hence, do you not get impressed by promises and claims until you are aware about the facts.

The best way to do this is to have a look at the track record. You need to do some calculations and analyze the performance of the company. Suppose that the clientele of the company has a count of four. This means that the company has taken four cases. Now check whether these customers have been satisfied or not. You would not find this information in the track chart. Go online and look at the comments which have been posted. This will highlight the actual qualities of the company.

· Comparing firms

Why do you need to compare things in the first place? This is because you need to extract the best option and exclude the ones which do not make it to the top. To legally eliminate debt, you need the best companies.

To legally eliminate debt, you need to fulfill certain conditions. For instance, you need to have a minimum payable figure of ten thousand dollars. If you don’t then you cannot legally eliminate debt.

QuickBooks Tip – The Chart of Accounts, What It Is & Its Many Uses In Your Business

The Chart of Accounts is the most important QuickBooks list.  It is the backbone for a company to track how much money it has, how much money it owes, how much money is coming in, and how much money it is spending.

It is not necessary to have a chart of accounts that provides for every conceivable transaction. Instead, the chart of accounts should include the minimum number of accounts necessary to capture the appropriate financial information and be flexible enough to allow for future growth.  The chart of accounts should be designed to include the accounts necessary for both financial and income tax reporting.

QuickBooks makes it easy for you to set up a chart of accounts.

When you create a company file in QuickBooks (File menu -> New Company), an EasyStep Interview is launched to guide you through the process.  Follow its “wizard” to initially setting up your company in QuickBooks, selecting the appropriate legal structure and select a predefined chart of accounts for your industry.

If you are unable to find your precise industry, you can:

  • select the industry closest to yours
  • copy a chart of accounts from another company in QuickBooks
  • import a chart of accounts from another source
  • or if you are adventurous, start from scratch

No need to fear: virtually everything can be undone, which is one of the reasons QuickBooks is so very popular; it is all so forgiving.

Always use account numbers.

You have to enable the use of account numbers, from the Edit menu -> choose Preferences -> select Accounting -> and click on the Company Preferences tab, and then selecting “Use account numbers”.

Using account numbers allows your company the most freedom of organization and arrangement of your account format in your financial reports.  By using numbers, you can arrange reports into meaningful sections, groups, or categories.  By default, QuickBooks orders all financial accounts in financial reports in numerical order.  If you wish to change the account order in the report, just change the account’s number.  This flexibility is not available when you use just using account names.  Additionally, it is a simple process to rearrange these same reports in alphabetical order, if and when desired: simply select Modify Report -> Display -> Sort in Ascending order/Descending order.

You are allowed up to 7 digits for an account number in QuickBooks; a minimum of 5 is recommended if you require numerous accounts and subaccounts.  Unfortunately, QuickBooks preconfigures their numbering system using 4 digit – which is rather limiting.  I often use, and recommend, a 5 digit account numbering system for construction companies:

10000 – 19999:  Assets
10000 – 14999:  Current Assets

  • 10000 – 10999:  Cash
  • 11000 – 11999:  Receivables
  • 12000 – 12999:  Inventory
  • 13000 – 14999:  Other Current Assets

15000 – 19999:  Noncurrent Assets

  • 15000 – 15999 – Fixed Assets
  • 16000 – 19999 – Other Assets

20000 – 29999:  Liabilities
20000 – 25999:  Current Liabilities

  • 20000 – 20499 – Accounts Payable
  • 20500 – 20999 – Credit Cards
  • 21000 – 25999 – Other Current Liabilities
  • 21000 – 21999 – Accrued Expenses
  • 22000 – 22999 – Payroll Liabilities
  • 23000 – 23999 – Debt, Current Portion
  • 24000 – 24999 – Capitalized Leases, Current Portion
  • 25000 – 25999 – Other

26000 – 29999:  Noncurrent Liabilities

  • 26000 – 26999 – Debt, Noncurrent Portion
  • 27000 – 27999 – Capitalized Leases, Noncurrent Portion
  • 28000 – 29999 – Other

30000 – 39999:  Equity

  • 30000 – 30999 – Capital Stock
  • 39000 – 39999 – Retained Earnings

Revenue: 40000 – 49999
50000 – 59999:  Cost of Goods Sold

  • 50000 – 50999 – Materials
  • 51000 – 51999 – Labor
  • 52000 – 52999 – Subcontractors
  • 53000 – 53999 – Equipment
  • 54000 – 59999 – Other Direct Costs

60000 – 89999:  Expenses

  • 60000 – 69999 – Selling Expenses
  • 70000 – 89999 – General and Administrative Expenses

90000 – 99999Other Income (Expenses)

There is no excuse for not having a chart of accounts set up in a format compatible with what is reported on one’s tax return as well as one’s financial statement.  Once set up, a simple click in QuickBooks prints a readable and well-organized financial report for internal management, bankers, other creditors, bonding companies, shareholders, et al.

This format need not be inconsistent with that used for internal and external financial reporting, since subaccounts would provide any necessary detail required by management and interested outside parties; while a simple click under report modification in QuickBooks re-arranges the expense accounts in alphabetical order, often the desired presentation for banks.

Important – Accounts may be added to or deleted from the chart of accounts at any time, but an account cannot be deleted easily once a transaction has been posted to it.  Consequently, ensure the chart of accounts is complete and unnecessary accounts have been deleted before recording any transactions.

A Successful Lawyer’s Secret Weapon, Legal Nurse Medical Record Analysis

Certified Legal Nurse Consultants CLNC do not function as legal aids or legal assistants, they function as nurses. They are skilled nurses providing clarity into the health care world. They interpret patient charts, procedures, standards of nursing and medical care practice, complex nursing practice and omissions.

Attorneys gain clarity from the research and the analytical fact data gathering skills of a nurse.

Nurses can add to an attorney’s insight and understanding of hospital, medical care and the scope of practice of multiple players in the hospital environment. Nurses can clarify what actually happened in procedures, mental health, home health, Community health, clinical operations, and types of pathology, forensic environments and surgery.

A nurse’s ability to pull the details out of a patient’s chart is one of their strongest skills.

A Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC) is a licensed Registered Nurse that has completed a set of rigorous courses and exams designed to confer understanding of varied legal elements in medical related cases.

Registered Nurses have experiences from a variety of situations, conditions, diagnoses and case types. Nurses create the patient’s charts. They are responsible for understanding and communicating all parts of the medical records. They develop a wealth of experiences in knowing the whole chart. Registered Nurses must report to and communicate with physicians, supervisors, nurses, pharmacist, therapists, radiology and specialists in process of providing care to the patient.

Certified Legal Nurse Consultants (CLNC) provide legal nurse medical record analysis.

Legal nursing medical record analysis means they provide screening, evaluation and review of medical charts. They can then communicate what occurred in ordinary every day terms. They screen and investigate relevant medical records for “merit” to assist attorneys in determining if they should or should not accept a case.

Time is money and this process can save an attorney time and money. There are multiple services available that can assist in this type of interpretation process; the Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC) option is considerably nominal in cost.

Their service is really much more than an interpretation. Their investigation includes policies, hospital procedures, documents and tangible items essential to the comprehensive review of the case. Examples of other items could include billing, x-ray reports, laboratory reports, treatments, orders and medications. This screening of the medical records determines the “merit” of the case.

Certified Legal Nurse Consultants provide reports with regard to specified medical cases. These reports can be provided in several formats or presentations including charts and chronologies, time-lines and drug delivery reports including in depth rationale of each medication to the degree of the Attorney’s request. They can establish identification of standards of care and practices of multiple disciplines involved in the case or the care of patient. They can define deviations from and adherents to the applicable standards of practice/care.

Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC) assess for tampering and relevant alleged damages and/or injuries. They identify factors that caused or contributed to the alleged damages and/or injuries. This process provides a scientific foundation for revealing crucial facts in medical-related litigation. This a cost- effective adjunct in the litigation process that upholds the standards of care and identifies “fraudulent or non-meritorious” claims.

Nursing skills can be used in many legal applications, legal systems, demonstrative evidence, defense, plaintiff, litigation, depositions or disclosures. Their ability to navigate research content span a large volume of information from authoritative, professional standards, scope of practice, state, federal and regulatory guidelines.

Certified Legal Nurse Consultants (CLNC) are a valuable asset to any Attorney faced with the confusing task of understanding and processing a legal case with multiple medical elements, medical language and injuries. Understanding who may be responsible in a medical case can be very involved. Individuals and family members are depending on the right outcome in their case.