Partners' Biggest Beefs With Associates' Briefs

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 09, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

New lawyers might need to brush up on securities fraud claims or federal energy regulations, sure. They are, after all, new. But their writing? Associates have spent years writing, from their undergrad thesis papers, to their torturous legal writing courses, to their summer internship memos. Writing is their strong point -- right?

Not if you ask partners, who can quickly rattle off a litany of problems with their associate writing. Here's a brief rundown of partners' biggest complaints.

1. Typos and Grammatical Errors

Attention to detail is an attorney's job, so every misplaced comma, incorrect conjugation, or simple misspelling grates. And frankly, associates are being paid too much and have been educated for too long to be making simple mistakes. Sure, there are some areas of ambiguity. Is it caselaw or case law? Do you Oxford comma or not? But aside from those, every typo or grammatical makes you look bad -- and lazy.

2. Too Many Abbreviations (TMA)

OMGPCDWYA. That's "oh my god, please calm down with your abbreviations," for the unfamiliar. Readers familiar with the law or issue should be able to open to any page and have a sense of what's going on. They can't do that if you've filled your writing with counterintuitive or unconventional abbreviations.

Use standard abbreviations and acronyms when appropriate. ERA, CERCLA, and IRS are all fine. Never abbreviate party names, avoid creating novel abbreviations, and for the sake of all that is good in writing, don't let the things like gov't, ass'n, or W. Va. show up anywhere but your citations.

3. Weak Use of Authorities

Weak authorities are a waste of partner time. Cases from other jurisdictions, statutes that have been amended or repealed, and citations that only sort of support your assertions -- they're not of much use. If a position is weak or your authorities are being stretched a little farther than they can naturally go, make that clear.

4. Sloppy Organization

Sure, you've been billing 70 hours a week and operating on little to no sleep. But that's no excuse for sloppy organization in your writing. Make sure arguments are laid out clearly and coherently. Avoid rambling or jumping between arguments and issues.

5. Wordiness and Passive Voice

So much writing has been destroyed by passive voice. So don't use it. It makes issues that are often already very boring and complicated even more boring and complicated. The same goes for wordiness. Focus on what matters and keep things short and tight.

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