How to Write a Group Brief and Live to Tell the Tale
It's going to happen sooner or later, if it hasn't already: you've been asked to write a brief with other people. In a big law firm, this could mean multiple layers of associates, senior associates, partners, managing partners, senior partners -- well, suffice it to say, there are a lot of people involved in the process.
Don't panic even if you are working with multiple people, each with different schedules, writing styles, writing habits, and different temperaments -- we're here to help. Here is your goal: Come out of writing the group brief with the same number of collegial co-workers you had going in, clothes unbloodied, and your sanity intact.
Now, here is how to reach that goal:
Going solo out of school? Spend more time developing practice skills and leave the marketing work for the experts.
Designate a Point Person
President Harry S. Truman famously kept a plaque on his desk that read, "The buck stops here." A group brief written by multiple people will inevitably sound like it was written by different people with disparate voices and writing styles. Your point person, like a project manager, will collate these different writing styles into a smooth, silky brief without any lumps, just like Grandma's mashed potatoes. Failing to designate someone to unify the brief's voice will result in an awkward brief that noticeably changes tenor with each author.
Check Your Egos at the Door
It's no secret that lawyers are a competitive lot. We've been trained to stake out a position and defend it. That's dandy in the courtroom, but as co-authors of a brief, you're all on the same side. Collaboration works only if everyone is free to come up with ideas, both good and bad.
The editing process can be a real ego-buster, too. What do you mean the passive voice is used too often by me? Don't take writing criticism personally: everyone writes differently, and if a partner or senior or associate is doing the editing, just let it happen. This won't be the last time in your career that you need to make your writing fit into someone else's mold.
Don't Be Afraid
As a summer associate, or even a first-year associate, you might be tempted to defer to others. That's generally a good idea, especially if the "others" are partners or senior associates. If, however, you have a question or an idea, pipe up. Just because a senior associate has a few years on you in terms of age and practice doesn't mean he or she has all the answers. But make sure you communicate with your partners in the right way.
Deadlines: Have Them, Then Use Them
The end of a meeting is a truly wonderful time: "Okay, everyone, we decided to do a bunch of things. Now let's go out there and do them -- and win one for the Gipper!"
Two weeks later, no one has completed any of their lofty goals. Briefs mean deadlines, but group briefs mean several deadlines, including well before the final deadline to give your President Truman time to piece disparate voices together into one unified work.
Now get writing, time's a-wasting.
- Tips for Working in Groups (University of Pittsburgh)
- Everything You Need to Know About Being a Summer Associate (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- How to Take Criticism Well (The Wall Street Journal)
- Associate, Clerk, or Intern: Surviving and Thriving This Summer (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- From Cooperative Learning to Collaborative Writing in the Legal Writing Classroom (BYU Law School)