Being a strong writer is a requirement for practicing law, but ask a lay person and they may tell you “legal writing” evokes thoughts of confusing contracts and memos filled with obscure Latin phrases. Fortunately for us, Susan McCloskey of Susan McCloskey Writing Consultants came to Bilzin Sumberg this week to help us keep our writing clear, effective, and sans-“legalese.”
The process actually began weeks ago, when Jessica Buchsbaum asked each of the summer associates to submit writing samples. We also completed a “Writer’s Inventory”, answering questions about our writing methods, strengths, and weaknesses. Susan used these materials to tailor her writing seminar to our individual needs.
Susan began by sharing proven writing techniques that improve organization, clarity, and concision. For example, Susan encouraged us to keep the purpose and the reader in mind when organizing and editing our writing. This is crucial for us, because we’ll be doing work for attorneys with wildly different preferences and expectations over the summer.
Susan then presented and evaluated our writing samples, which ranged from a faux-Supreme Court opinion about defamation to a legal memo about Florida mangrove governance. All the samples were presented anonymously, but I still squirmed when mine was under the microscope. As Susan edited our samples, I was amazed to see how making relatively minor changes (eliminating superfluous words and reorganizing sentences) can have such a large effect on writing quality.
Each of us was also able to meet with Susan individually, providing us a wonderful opportunity to pick her brain and learn methods to improve individual areas of weakness. During our conversation, she suggested that I start allowing time for my writing to “cool off” before I submit it, a practice I’ve already adopted. She also recommended I pick up a copy of Brian Garner’s The Elements of Legal Style to help keep my writing skills sharp.
Participating in Susan’s writing seminar gave each of us valuable tools and methods to employ over the rest of the summer when writing memos, drafting documents, or even composing emails. I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learned to good use!