Legal Writing


Alexa Chew on Citation Literacy & Stylish Legal Citation

Raffi Melkonian Sample SCOTUS brief for Fort Bend County v. Lois Davis (argued Apr. 22, 2019)

NB: as of March 2019, Superior Court of PA will allow persuasive citation of its unpublished (memorandum) opinions in lawyers’ briefs (as Commonwealth Court had already permitted). Caveat: only unpublished opinions dated post-5/1/2019 may be used, and per curiam orders are not citable. This decision amends Rule 126 of the PA Rules of Appellate Procedure.


  • Statements of fact often include facts that should not be stated.
    • (e.g., unimportant dates.)
  • Figure out who your actual reader will be. What do they already know, what will they want to know, and what do you want them to know?
  • Write about the rule, not the source of the rule (put the source in the citation after stating the rule).
  • Avoid long-winded case descriptions.
  • Delete adverbs; seriously consider deleting adjectives.
  • Keep a spare-parts file for prose you have to delete.
  • Pick only the best points to argue, and give up the minor ones.
  • Finish your ‘final draft’ at least a week before the due date. It’s amazing how much this can contribute to the quality of your final product.
  • Edit for bulges, gaps, and lumps:
    • Bulges = unnecessary information
    • Gaps = missing information
    • Lumps = disparate topics unhelpfully combined
  • Skip the history lesson. Jump right to the Rule.
  • Synthesis: distill the mass of case law into generalizable rules that the reader can test against specific factual scenarios (but which account for all the relevant case law). Use descriptions of individual cases selectively and strategically.
  • Revise by converting your document into bullet points.


“Just like all good comedy, all good legal writing comes from a place of truth–not just fidelity to the record and law, but understanding and simplifying the issue so that it’s impossible to ignore and setting it forth without artifice.” — Luke Bradley