Vail Daily column: Taking pride in authorship
Ryan Summerlin May 1, 2014
Sitting down to commence the often herculean task of composing a brief, I imagine myself as an old-time lawyer with a quill in hand and a blank piece of parchment before me. Dusty tomes of legal musings surround my imaginary scrivener’s table, connections to the even more distant vocational past. A brisk draft wafts through the halls of my Dickensian law office, causing me to walk over to stoke the fire and readjust my wool scarf.
Never mind that I am in a cozy, modern workspace with a laptop staring at a blank Word document and a blinking cursor: the illusion brings my mind to a calmer, simpler place. As a litigator, writing is a critical component of my job and a skill that is often dispositive of a lawsuit. With the stakes so high, drafting a document is not a process to be rushed. The thought exercise of believing each keystroke to be as deliberate as calligraphy helps set the proper tone.
Nature of the Beast
Maintaining this assertive fiction in the face of the exigencies of modern law practice can be challenging. With deadlines to meet, a deluge of emails and the steady hum of a vibrating ringtone, the ability to focus is crucial. Of course, the 19th-century attorney I pretend to be probably felt the same way. He was preoccupied by telegrams, messengers and his imminent demise from a disease now easily treatable. He longed for a bygone era when he could spend the necessary time and thought chiseling stone tablets. In an intellectually rigorous profession, a perfectionist like me always wishes that there was more time to simply think it through.
When I read opposing briefs, it is easy to spot those whose authors took pride in their creation and those that were slapped it all together to meet a deadline or to interpose a token objection without any real belief in the merit of the position. I cherish the artisans of the former type, while considering the latter category an affront to the learned nature of the legal profession. I am no less critical of my own work, rereading briefs after the deadline on my own time to nitpick ways in which I could have better made my points.
Best Work Forward
Clients hire lawyers to further their interests and lawyers owe them many duties, including the duty to put their best work forward. The trick is to reconcile this duty with the time and expense required to create truly great work. While some clients, like Renaissance patrons, have the financial resources to fund exhaustively researched and meticulously crafted briefs, the majority just want a brief good enough to win.
Efficiency Is Key
Efficiency, as always, is key. Efficient does not mean cheap, it means striking a balance between the desired end result and the cost required to get there. Little shortcuts can pay big dividends in this endeavor and allow more time for fine-tuning. Common legal arguments can be kept in a file for use when needed. Research on specific legal questions can be likewise maintained so that when similar questions arise, the research need only be updated and not started from the beginning. Writing is a talent that can dull if not used. To keep skills sharp and lessen the effort needed to get back into the flow, it helps to practice writing anything. Fiction is probably better than a grocery list, but exercising that part of the brain in any fashion will help.
It is often implied or explicitly stated that writing is an antiquated skill lacking worth in our current and future world. Twitter is cited to show that communication can still be effective when written in shorthand form. Legions of hasty emails littered with spelling mistakes are exchanged each day and the economy has not collapsed. These points are not wrong, but they are indicative of catering to a lowest common denominator. We should strive for excellence, not to avoid doom. A well-thought out and crafted tweet is that much more poignant due to the inherent space limitations. Taking the incremental extra time and effort to write a proper email stands out among a sea of mediocrity and has a more lasting impact for that reason.
Writing Makes Principles Reality
Applying the quill and ink ethos to the world of litigation combines these lofty principles with reality. While writing is a beautiful art in and of itself, the goal is to convince a judge that the client’s position is correct. A judge is more likely to believe in the message if it is obvious to the reader that a great deal of effort and pride was put into its creation.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and is the owner-mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rkvlaw.com.