In his LawProse Lesson #391, Bryan A. Garner asks and answers: What do judicial readers want?
His email/web post is really a sales pitch to one of his upcoming seminars. Even so, one doesn’t have to buy the seminar to appreciate that the pitch and rationale are spot-on. Sharing here because it’s so good. And the last paragraph really gets to the heart of it all:
What do judges and law clerks want from a brief-writer? Once your readers sit down to focus—perhaps in a receptive mood—they demand certain information: What does the statute or contract actually require, and what precisely has happened between the parties? Does the text apply, or does it not?
If it’s a criminal case, judicial readers want to know precisely what conduct is prohibited. Then they want to know precisely what the prosecution can show the defendant did.
They don’t want to find out on page 10, for the first time, what the controlling legal text requires. Then they’ll wonder what the heck you were doing in the first 9 pages.
Judicial readers want an argument given efficiently, without wasted words, followed by specifics. If you happen to write the kind of clear expository prose that typifies the writing in our best magazines, that’ll be a big bonus. If the prose instantly answers the questions that naturally arise in readers’ minds, they’ll quickly become engaged.
It’s possible, you see, to write the kind of brief that’s intended to be read, not skimmed. Although you want your prose to be skimmable, your skill in composing sentences and paragraphs should make your readers want to kick back and savor your argument. That’ll be a change of pace, since few legal writers possess this level of skill.