CBA Record Jan-Feb 2021
to General Counsel. She sums up her approach by saying “I’ve done kind of everything and definitely have seen how legal writing and communication in general impact government work and in-house work. Everything from being now the GC of a company to being an entry level in-house attorney. “ Schwartz continues, “It’s all about communication and all about good communication. Everything from the quick email to the high level appellate brief or the 300-page contract. It really serves as the foundation for everything else you do.” For supervising attorneys, it helps to drive home the importance of legal writing class with your summer hires. Law students should take advantage of writing classes to improve their communication skills. As Schwartz told my students, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the most important class you take in law school, although it might not feel like it at the time. It’s one of those things you re- ally understand the importance of with 20/20 hindsight, but we’ll give you the benefit of just letting you know. Trust us. It really is.” Listenmore – understand the assignment Before attorneys start writing, they need to listen carefully to their assigning attorney. The first step in writing a successful document is knowing what one shouldwrite. Junior attorneys need to understand the scope of the assignment. Is the assignment a 50-state survey, a formal memorandum, or bullet points for an email? Knuckey explains this point: “Listen to what we actually need from the project. Do we need a deep-dive, in-depth review to find everything out there on this issue? Or is it a situation where I want something quick and dirty because I’m about to get on the phone with a GC and just need a couple of bullet points’?” Understanding the scope of the assignment is important to please the partner, serve the client, and advance one’s career. On the flipside, failing to listen could be disastrous. Billing 50 hours to research and write a long memorandum may be much more than the partner needs or the client wants. Also, diving deep into research may burn up the two hours the partner has until her phone call with the client. In either case, the partner is likely to be unhappy and the client poorly served. Know your audience Understanding the assignment alsomeans identifying the audience. Is the junior attorney writing for a law firm partner with extensive knowledge of the area of law or for a non-lawyer client? Magajne explains the document may change depending on the audience. “If you’re writing for a client or something that will get forwarded to the client, you may want to tailor the way you com- municate, so that somebody who’s not a lawyer will understand.” She continues, “Ask those questions. A partner will know if you don’t know who the audience is.” Writing for your audience is key to effective communication. Leave yourself enough time to edit Junior attorneys may think the brief is done as soon as they type the final period. Not true. Legal writing experts say attorneys should spend as much time editing a document as they do writing the initial draft. Attorneys communicate better when they edit their writing. Our panel agrees. Schwartz recommends dividing your time into
NOTA BENE BY KATHLEEN DILLON NARKO
“Having nowhad a lot of experience litigating, doing transactional work, [and] doing regulatory work, the thing I will say is that writing and effective communicating are the keys to everything. No matter what type of work you’re doing. Regardless of where you see yourself in the future.” – Ashlee Knuckey, Partner, Locke Lord C ommunication is key to lawyers’ success. Whether writing a brief or a contract, we depend on our words to do our job. We do not manufacture widgets or research new vaccines. Instead, we write documents that convey ideas to others. This column focuses on how junior attorneys can produce stellar work product for their supervising attorneys. Success involves more than the ability to write clearly and concisely – the new lawyer must also heed other communication tips to succeed in a law firm or legal department. Writing well alone does not guarantee success. When I asked three practicing attorneys what makes a new lawyer succeed at their organizations, their advice moved beyond writing clearly and con- cisely to how a new lawyer works with others in the firm to create the best work product. The tips that follow are less about how to write the most eloquent brief and more about how to produce a written document the client needs when the client needs it. I would also like to hear your thoughts about common problems with young lawyers’ writing and your solutions. Please email them to me at the address at the end of this column. This year I asked the panel to address my Advanced Legal Writ- ing class about the importance of good communication skills and to offer tips for junior attorneys. Panelists included Ashlee Knuckey, partner at Locke Lord; UrshaMagajne, partner atMuch Shelist; and Lauren Schwartz, General Counsel of cleverbridge, inc. All three are my former students. Strong communication skills are crucial for lawyers All panelists agree: communication is an essential skill for law- yers. Lauren Schwartz echoes Ashlee Knuckey’s conclusion above. Schwartz has worked in a number of different capacities, frompatent litigator at Kirkland&Ellis, to judicial clerk, to in-house IP counsel, Communication is Key: Writing Tips for Junior Attorneys (and ThoseWho Supervise Them) Kathleen Dillon Narko is a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a member of the CBARecord Editorial Board.
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