Lawyer

Law & Law Enforcement

Speaker 1  0:02 

Would you state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

Speaker 2  0:11 

I’m currently legal counsel with the Ministry of the Attorney General of the province of Ontario, provincial governments, here in Canada. It has been since 2000. It’s been 10 years since I graduated from college. Actually 11 years since I graduated from college.

Speaker 1  0:29 

Okay. And how long have you worked in your current field?

Speaker 2  0:33 

In my current field, I’ve worked for two years at my current job six months.

Speaker 1  0:37 

Great. Okay. And can you provide just a very brief description of your primary job functions?

Speaker 2  0:44 

I’m a lawyer.

Speaker 1  0:45 

Great, very brief. And can you tell us just a little bit about the law that you practice?

Speaker 2  0:50 

I do commercial law. So I focused specifically on loans to small businesses, and also the the insolvency side of those loans, if the loan recipient doesn’t pay back their loan.

Speaker 1  1:02 

Okay, great.

Speaker 2  1:04 

Mostly contracts and general commercial legal advice

Speaker 1  1:08 

I see. Okay. And could you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

Speaker 2  1:18 

What lawyers sells is words, whether it’s whether it’s their legal advice, or the contracts they draft. Most of my legal advice is given via email or via memos. So I would say that 80% of my job has to do with writing.

Speaker 1  1:34 

80% interesting. Okay, great. And could you tell me a little bit, the bit about the forms or types of writing or the kinds of documents that you most often draft,

Speaker 2  1:46 

Most often would be contracts, I also draft court filings like notices of application and notices of motion and factums and court orders. But on a, on a day to day basis,  most of my advice comes in the form of fairly detailed professional email memorandums.

Speaker 1  2:09 

I see, and who are the primary audiences and what are the primary purposes of say, those those email memorandums?

Speaker 2  2:17 

The primary purpose is to take a fairly technical legal point and translate it into business advice that the business people with my clients can use.

Speaker 1  2:26 

Perfect. Okay. That’s really interesting. And are there specific strategies or ways of thinking that you use as you’re trying to distill that information and sort of uncomplicate it for a different audience?

Speaker 2  2:40 

One of my favorite ones, is actually a lesson that they taught us in my college writing class, which is when you look at a sentence you wrote or a paragraph you wrote, ask yourself, Is this how you would explain it to a child; if I explained something to a 10 year old, you can explain it to anybody. And that means that an executive who’s been reviewing briefing notes for 10 hours and really wants to go home, can look at whatever you wrote for them and think, okay, I get that. It’s so easy, especially when you get to be a specialist in a particular discipline to just use the same jargon that people in the industry use or use lots of abbreviations or take shortcuts to get the point across. But the information is only as good as what the reader walks away with, right? You can write the smartest analysis in the world. But if the reader doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, it might as well be bad analysis, because the the reader hasn’t left with an understanding of what the reader needs to

Speaker 1  3:54 

 Right, right.

Speaker 2  3:57 

If you sacrifice some of the technical details for the sake of clarity, that’s usually a good trade.

Speaker 1  4:03 

Huh, right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And, and how did you know how to perform these types of writing when you when you first started doing them?

Speaker 2  4:13 

Practice and negative feedback take you a long way <laughter>. You’re not born with the ability to write clearly. You, especially as a junior lawyer are placed under immense time pressures to deliver work product in an area you’re just barely beginning to get to know. And because of that the work product can be rushed or sloppy or just not as clear and precise as it could be. And when when you see how the end users of your written information react to that. It teaches you a lot about how you can do your work better and how you can present things in a way that practically useable whoever’s reading it, know, if if I, if I slaved away all night over a memo, and it was too long and complicated, and it didn’t begin with an executive summary, and I put it on the desk of a senior partner who only has 30 seconds to look at it, they’re going to be pissed off because they can’t get the message in 30 seconds, and they’re gonna tell me about it. So the more the more you go through those types of interactions, the more you focus your own practice.

Speaker 1  5:28 

That’s really interesting. Yeah. And you’re actually sort of speaking to my next question, which is, can you describe a time in your career, that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

Speaker 2  5:39 

I mean, I would say that I feel unprepared as a writer every day, the practice of law is very fast paced. And you don’t always have the time to research the latest cases on the topic or understand all of the facts of the background matter, or take the hours and hours that it sometimes needs to be able to polish a piece of analytical writing. I think… I can’t remember there’s a famous quote, and I can’t remember the source of the quote, the quote, it I feel like it’s Oscar Wilde, or one of those white writers that everybody quotes. But he said at the start of a letter, I’m sorry, this letter is so long, it would have been shorter, but I didn’t have enough time. It takes longer to edit and polish a piece of technical writing than it does to produce a lengthy pieces. Usually shorter pieces better and more helpful for people. So I guess that’s a long way of saying I feel I feel unprepared to give my best quality of work every day, because it takes a long time to write a short and clear email. At best I get 90% of the effectiveness that I should have when I’m in a rush.

Unknown Speaker  6:53 

Yeah, absolutely. When you talked about sort of getting negative feedback from your higher ups, are there other things other than paying really close attention to that feedback? Are there other things that you did to overcome those early challenges when this was all new to you?

Speaker 2  7:14 

I found other people in my firm whose writing style really spoke to me or inspired me and tried to mimic some of their habits. Reading, reading other people and picking up tips from them can be really helpful. In the college setting, you can ask your professors for any essays from previous years and see how they, they are structured and they are worded or you can see what your peers are doing. In the law firm setting, that say you’re asked to write a legal opinion on a statute of limitations issue, you can go into the firm’s document database and read all sorts of legal opinions by all sorts of different people. And they all have their preference for how they’re structured, and what kind of writing style they use, and whether they lead with a summary, how they cite their sources, etc. And if you read enough, you can take part away from any of them. So for me, it was about getting advice from people who had done it before some of that advice was asking them what they think about certain concepts or certain approaches. But some of that advice came without them even knowing, just from me reading their work and taking stuff away.

Unknown Speaker  8:32 

That’s really interesting. Yeah. And who oversees your writing? I imagine that and it varies clients versus other lawyers in the firm. But is there is there one person who you would say, most directly oversees your writing or not really?

Speaker 2  8:53 

As a beginning lawyer, you were usually doing assignments for other lawyers, who would pass those assignments on to their clients; there wouldn’t be supervision as a, once you get more senior, you’re reporting directly to the client. So nobody’s overseeing your writing. It’s just whether the client can make sense of it or not. But as a junior, you’d be, you’d be creating content for the senior partner on the file, who would take that content and put his or her own spin on it and put it out to the client. So that was a good opportunity for feedback. But it was assignment based, and it was a big firm with 150 lawyers, so the person I would report to would be different for any given assignment.

Unknown Speaker  9:46 

How long do you typically have to complete a writing project?

Speaker 2  12:28 

Depends on the magnitude of it. Usually, the urgent questions are pretty simple. Not always, sometimes, urgent questions are really complicated. And you have to limit the scope of what you were asked to advise on. But usually a simpler thing will require a same-day response, or next-morning response, and something a little more complex will be a longer term project for you can get back to them by the end of the week or the beginning of the next week. Part of being a lawyer is about managing your clients expectations. Your clients have a business problem, and they don’t know what the law is, and they don’t know whether it’s a simple question or a hard question. Unlike an assignment, you can go back to the lawyer and say, I can’t deliver this as fast as you want me to, what would you like to do?

Unknown Speaker  13:23 

Right, okay. Um, and what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student? And in what ways do you think College Writing experiences prepared you or not for you to work in the right in the workplace?

Speaker 2  13:39 

I was an English major. I did my minor in Canadian Studies, which is a very, very interdisciplinary program that brought in political science, history, economics, public policy. In both of those disciplines, my primary type of written product was a research essay. As I went on in college, I realized that an essay succeeded or failed, not necessarily on the quality of ideas or the quality of research, but the structure by which that information was conveyed to the reader. And again, like, like the example of the minister reading 10 hours of briefing notes in a day, these professors or research assistants will read 200 essays in three days. And they’ll all have interesting ideas. But some essays just sort of throw those ideas at the reader completely, regardless of any structure or sense of organization. And those ideas just bounce off the reader. The successful essays make it very clear from the first couple of sentences, what the reader is going to walk away with and why the reader should care. And once I figured that out, my performance improved in school dramatically. And, that lesson, which is to, to put a structure and put a frame around your information has been incredibly useful for professional writing.

Unknown Speaker  15:11 

That’s really, really interesting. Are there things that it would have been in addition to this, this really useful thing that you did learn as a student…Are there other things that would have been useful for you to do or learn as a student to prepare you for the specific kind of writing that you do now at work?

Speaker 2  15:33 

That’s a good question. So law is a very collaborative discipline. Lawyers deal with novel problems all the time, and are asked to answer new types of questions all the time. And they usually practice in not always, there’s a small town full of practitioners that a lot of the time law is practiced in a law firm setting with lots of really smart colleagues around you. People describe law as a very collegial field, which means that everybody is willing to give their time to help each other out. So one of the things that I’ve loved about working as a lawyer is when I’m struggling with something, either a concept or the way I articulate that concept and write it, I can just go a couple of doors down and ask people, hey, what do you think about this? Or do you have five minutes to talk about this, I have an idea in my mind, but I’m not sure how I can phrase it in a way that the client will understand. Or can you take a look at my notice of application, I have to send it into court tomorrow and I need a second set of eyes. So those …  it’s tough to write well, by yourself, all the writers have editors or assistants or second readers or peer reviewed journals, taking a look at what they do. And as a lawyer, I learned that there’s no shame, or it’s not a failure, if you have to go ask your peers for help. It’s part of the process, it’s part of what makes your work better. It’s part of taking an idea from something that’s just hanging around in the back of your mind to something that’s out on paper that everybody can understand. So I didn’t I didn’t do that in college at all, I never, I never took a first draft and sent it to a friend for their edits or commentary. I never sat down in the dorm common room with a friend and talked about the paper I was working on. But since becoming a professional, that type of collaboration has been indispensable, and it’s gotten me through some of my toughest assignments.

Speaker 1  17:42 

That’s so interesting. That’s really, really useful. Yeah. And could you this is a big question, but could you describe what’s at stake in your writing

Speaker 2  17:52 

<Something> could shut down their company, you’re the person they call. They’re not all of my legal advice is big, quote, unquote, bet the company kind of stuff. But sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s facing a $10 million lawsuit that could literally end the company and getting asked how do we respond to that? What, how strong is this claim? What can we do? Should we settle it? Should we fight it? The questions, we also get asked a question, so if the if the client if our if the person who received this loan, needs to make a change to the payment deadline, did they do we need an original copy of the document they signed to change the deadline? Or can they send us a scan? Sometimes it’s very small administrative questions. But at the top end of the scale, they can be massive. So it really just depends on the day. And one of the things I like about being a lawyer is the type of writing you do and the type of challenge you’re asked to respond to is so diverse from day to day.

Speaker 1  19:03 

That’s really interesting. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. And what is the most difficult thing about writing in your field or in your specific position?

Speaker 2  19:14 

The fact that most of the people who read my writing, have no interest in what lawyers do. And so nobody calls their lawyer, because they’re having a great day, and they just want to chat. They call when there is a problem. And it’s usually a type of problem that they don’t understand, because law is very technical and specialized. So people have a huge headache in their business life that’s been percolating for a month, and it gets bad to the point where they realize they have to call legal and pay the exorbitant fees that lawyers charge just to get rid of the fee. So nobody, nobody wants to make the call in the first place. And they don’t know what the lawyer does, and they don’t want to have to deal with it. But at the end of the day, they’ve asked for legal advice. So they might get an email or a memo or a draft contract that tries to solve their problem. But they’re not legal specialists, they don’t even want to think about the problem in the first place. And you have to make it very clear to them, what you as the lawyer are trying to accomplish and why it matters to the client. So the biggest challenge is taking your technical knowledge and the technical way to solve the problem, and totally reframing it. So it becomes option A or Option B in business language, not in legal language. So it’s become a set of options that the decision maker with the client can choose. And in order to choose them, they have to understand them, you have to, you have to turn a legal problem into a business solution.

Speaker 1  20:53 

That’s interesting. And yeah, very, very well said, that makes a lot of sense. Um, has anyone helped you directly with your right as with your development as a writer, either formally or informally in the organization, and you talked about asking for advice and going to look at old files, looking at the work that other lawyers have done, but has anyone sort of given you direct formal or informal development assistance.

Speaker 2  21:20 

So as a junior lawyer, when you’re working for a partner, they, like I said before, lawyers work in words, words of medium that we use, so everybody’s a nerd about writing style. And they are not shy about sharing how they feel about your particular writing style. So you’ll get back first drafts with tons of red ink on them. And sometimes that will turn into a conversation about how we approach the challenge as writers. But an interesting thing about that is I realized after enough of those interactions, that a lot of what people had to say about my work, were just style choices, individual opinions, or preferences. It wasn’t necessarily any objective advice about what good writing is, or what good writing is, it’s it’s advice about what the person giving it thinks good writing is. So you take pieces of that away, and you accept some of that advice and reject some of that advice. And at the end of the day, you come up with your own style. So lots of people express their opinions about my work. Nobody sat down and mentored me for a month about sentence structure, paragraph structure, format, etc. But the feedback came from hearing what worked for people and what didn’t work for people and then taking pieces of that away and forming my own style.

Speaker 1  22:56 
That’s really interesting.

Speaker 2  22:58 
It I’ve been, I mean, I’ve been doing, like, from college to grad school to the field, I was in before law to law school to now I’ve been doing technical and academic writing for 15 years. And I feel like I’m good at it. But I don’t feel like I’m as good as I could be. It’s still a work in progress. And every time I get a draft back with red marks on it, I think, okay, what did I do wrong? Is there something I can change about how I structure assignments like this? Is there something I can change about my sentence structure? Am I using m-dashes way too much? The answer is always “Yes.” You’re never done. It’s always a it’s always a process. Writing is a practice. And the thing about practice is, you have to do it all the time. No, you’re not. It’s, it’s a work in progress. always

Speaker 1 23:50 
We have just a couple more questions. And I feel like you’ve spoken to this, but I’m gonna go ahead and ask it more directly. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization and in your field as a whole?

Speaker 2  24:00 
Incredibly highly?

Speaker 1  24:05 
It seems inevitable, as you said, sort of trafficking in words. So yeah, um, and how would you define successful writing as a student as opposed to successful writing in your current position?

Speaker 2  24:25 
One of the frustrating things about being a student and I’ll go back to what I said two questions ago, is that sometimes you’ll get a bad mark on a paper. And it’ll be a bad mark for reasons related to how you wrote the paper, not necessarily the content of your paper. And that isn’t an indication that you wrote a bad paper. It’s an indication that the decision maker who graded it didn’t like the style of your paper, right. So as as much as research and teaching assistants and professors try to be objective and try to be neutral about how they grade things, they inevitably have their preference. Sometimes you’ll just get some someone who doesn’t understand your style of writing that doesn’t appreciate it. So as much as it would be nice to say, “in college, it’s simple because there’s a grade at the top of your paper. And in professional life, it’s hard because there’s not.” I mean, in both cases, you can’t, you can’t be sure that if somebody liked or disliked it, it’s directly because of your writing style. There’s so many other factors in play, and everybody has their individual opinion. So for me, success in college was, if I felt that I put in my best effort in the circumstances, right? There were some papers where there were four other things due that week, and like, my girlfriend was sick, and I had to be in another city for an appointment or whatever. And there just wasn’t all that much I could put in. So I got a B and I still put in the best effort I put in the very time compressed circumstances. And I think that’s that’s a nice way to define success, because it doesn’t depend on what somebody else, on the mood somebody else’s in when they’re grading your paper. But what matters is if you put the work in, if you feel like you’re improving, if you feel like you took lessons from previous negative feedback and tried to respond to them. That’s how you know you’re on the road to somewhere you want to be.

Speaker 1
Right. And based on those criteria, would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer now?

I mean, I’m still trying… the time pressures; as much as it feels like college is a really busy time, it’s probably the most flexibility you’ll ever have with your schedule. So that that gets worse and worse and the deadlines get tighter and tighter and you’re never able to devote as much time as you would want to. But I’ve definitely gotten better at being able to turn out a high quality product on very tight deadlines, and I’m proud of that, but it’s still tighter the deadlines get the harder the process is and I’m better but it’s harder. So you’re still you’re still working toward something but never all the way there. It’s always a work in progress.

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Human Rights & Discrimination Lawyer

Law & Law Enforcement

Human Rights and Discrimination Lawyer

21:43

 

Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated college?

 

A: I’m a lawyer, I work for a government agency called the Human Rights Legal Support Center, and I graduated in 2012, so that would be six years ago.

Q: Can you provide a very brief description of your primary job functions?

 

A: Uh, it’s a mix, I mean I work on human rights files from beginning to end. So the beginning of a file is a paper application, so I might draft that, and the middle of the file is the mediation, so I would attend the mediation with the client, the end of the file is the hearing, so I would prepare submissions for that hearing, attend the hearing, do submissions both written and orally.

 

Q: Can you provide a rough estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing? Would you say zero to 25 percent, 25 to 50 percent, 50 to 75 percent, or 75 to 100 percent?

 

A: I’d say 50 to 75.

 

Q: What forms or types of writing or kinds of documents are you most often writing for your job?

 

A: It’s probably 50 percent emails, and 50 percent written submissions on behalf of clients.

 

Q: Good. And so who would be your primary audiences for those kinds of documents?

 

A: Emails are either clients or lawyers, so other lawyers on the file, or sometimes if a party’s self represented, it’s self represented party. And then the submissions, the audience is the tribunal, so that’s a single adjudicator who’s appointed to the human rights tribunal.

 

Q: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about the primary purposes for perhaps your emails that you’d be writing?

 

A: Yeah, they really range [chuckle]. Some of them are just pure logistics, like, figuring out a phone call, or confirming a client’s instructions. I would say a lot of them are communicating advice that I gave orally or even that I didn’t give orally, I’m just doing it for the first time in writing, so that I can give the clients instructions on how to proceed.

 

Q: Okay. And then the other more formal court documents, their purposes would be?

 

A: To try to win an argument [laughter]. So, yeah, whatever that argument is.

 

Q: Could you perhaps walk us through the process of a specific recent project or type of project, specifically thinking about like how an assignment or task is given to you, what your preparation is like, the steps you take from the time it’s assigned to you through its completion?

 

A: Yep. I’ll do this submissions because I think that’s probably the best example. There– let me think about this. Sometimes there are deadlines that are imposed by the tribunal, especially if I’m responding to a submission that’s been made by the other side. So in terms of preparation, you know, I get the deadline from the tribunal, I have a certain amount of time, probably about two weeks, to prepare. Sometimes it’s our initiative, and so that’s me sort of sitting down and brainstorming on a file, and figuring out that we need to file something in writing in order to achieve a certain goal. So that’s a lot more flexible, that would be me taking the time to actually think through what I have to do on the file, and then figuring out whether I have an example of that kind of submission already sitting on my desktop. And I would do that in both cases, actually, look for a precedent first, and if I have that precedent, I use it as a rubric for especially the law, I would study the same cases and use some of the same framework. If I had to start from scratch, I would look at cases and figure out how this has gone in similar cases, and then use that background to inform what I do next. And in terms of how I would actually sit down and write it, once I felt like I had enough input to create the output, I would normally just hammer it out. Like I would sit down for an hour or two hours and maybe put headphones on, and create a draft that I would then send to the client to approve, probably go back and forth once or twice with some edits, and then PDF it and file it.

 

Q: Okay, great. So you talked just there about edits – how frequently in the process is someone reviewing this work and, if it’s an external reviewer, what are they doing to try to help make the writing or the quality of the document better?

 

A: Yeah, I would say 90 percent of the time it’s a client reviewing it, so their way of making the document better is either correcting me if I’ve gotten a fact wrong, or adding in their perspective on how they want to argue it. You know, normally I have to tell you I don’t accept them, I’m like, “Well I’m the lawyer, I know how to argue it,” so that kind of edit doesn’t make its way through. Sometimes if I’m co-counselling with a lawyer on a file, they’ll review my draft as well. Those edits I think are kind of two categories. One is just for quality, so you know, grammatical or conciseness, or making a point a bit more clearly. And then there is a lot of difference I find depending on the lawyer you’re working with in the style that they write in, so I’m not particularly formal or lengthy in the way that I write, I just state the facts and leave it. But I do work with lawyers who want a bit more formal lawyer language in their documents, and so they’ll edit to add that.

 

Q: So how did you know how to do these kinds of writing?

 

A: You take a class in law school called legal research and writing, so they fold the research in with that too. It’s one semester, it’s not that practical I’ll say. And I developed most of the skills on the job. I also did mock trials in law school, and those I found useful, because you’re asked to create draft arguments, and those are reviewed by professionals who are actually practicing, so they start to give you a sense of style. And I would say when I was articling, I got really harshly edited because you’re trying to translate– at least for me, I did academic writing in undergrad, and then you go to law school and you sort of learn what you’re doing, but then you’re out in the world and it’s a really different style of writing. It’s point first, so you don’t take your time to get to the point, you say the point up front, and then explain why your point’s right. And it’s extremely direct, like there’s no dressing on the sentences [chuckle], so you know, the students who are overthinking everything have it just torn apart by the lawyers. So that was definitely a learning experience.

 

Q: Great. And so you had said that the class wasn’t particularly practical for you. What do you think was like the biggest gap between the way the class presented the writing and then how you experienced it in the real world?

 

A: Um, I mean the principles were there in the class, like when I look back, they were trying to teach us how to do it properly, I think it was just a lack of practice. And that we were still, like law school the way I did it was still extremely academic. So you’re still reading academic language, you’re still steeped in that in terms of the rest of the curriculum. So you’re just not I don’t think getting enough exposure or practice doing it in the way that you end up having to do it later on.

 

Q: So can you describe a time in your career that you maybe felt unprepared as a writer in your job?

 

A: That’s a good question. Let me think.

 

Q: Is there a particular task or a skill that your job asked you to do that you maybe hadn’t done before?

 

A: Yeah. I think, I mean sort of I can see the way I’ve built things up. I’ll give you a couple of examples. One is, we draft applications for people who are explaining the kind of discrimination they experienced, and I know the first few times I had to do that I felt like I didn’t really understand how to do that because I didn’t know whether to put it in the first person, first of all. And I also didn’t know whether to make it just about the facts, or to bring in the law. And you know, I’ve since learned how to do that, and how to do it in a style that suits me. But that I think I just, yeah, took some stabs at it, and then eventually read other versions of it to figure out what to do. I also once had to write a factum, which is not what I currently do, but another kind of law that I practiced before, and that was overwhelming because it’s a lot more formal structurally. So you have to put things in a certain font size, create certain margins, cite things extremely precisely, and if you don’t do that, you’ll have it actually rejected when you go to file it. So I definitely felt like I didn’t know what I was doing there and had to look at other examples to figure it out.


Q: Would you say that’s your primary method of kind of overcoming these challenges, is looking at other examples? Or do you have other means of like, if you feel a challenge at work, do you have other avenues of helping you overcome those challenges?

 

A: Yeah, so looking at other examples, talking to colleagues about you know, specific questions that I might have, and then trial and error [chuckle] I’d say is the other one. You know, sometimes you try something out, and, what I do currently is flexible enough that you’re not going to fail if you do it wrong, you’re just going to learn from the experience and do it better next time.

 

Q: So, aside, you know you’ve talked about clients of course looking over your writing and also co-counsel and stuff like that, do you have anybody you consider a supervisor that oversees your writing at any point?

 

A: Not currently. I used to, but not [10:46 inaudible].

 

Q: Sure, okay. You’ve touched on this a little bit, how long typically do you have to complete a writing project from assignment to completion?

 

A: Uh, between I would say one week and a month, depending on the project.

 

Q: Okay. We’ve hit on some of this, and this can even go beyond law school, maybe even into undergraduate writing, but we’re talking about more general writing here as well – what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to do as a student, and do you think that your college writing experiences gave you kind of any preparation for the way that you write now in your workplace?

 

A: Yep. Stages of writing that I would have done to get me where I am. The first would be undergrad, and I remember that being essays or reflective pieces, and research-based, academically-based, theory-based kind of work. I don’t necessarily [laughter] think that really helped me where I am today, maybe helped me with like reading comprehension in some of the things that I do now, but I’m so far away from theory with what I do that that I don’t see how I really incorporate it now, I guess other than basic grammar and learning how to write coherently. And then in law school, I still was doing mostly academic writing, with that exception of the course and the mock trials. And that, I guess sort of started to transition me into a much more direct writing style, but I know that in the third stage, when I was articling, I still had a lot of work to do in the sense that– then I was being asked to do submissions, so I was being asked to do two things, submissions and research. And it was still probably 75 percent research, 25 percent submissions. So I got enough practice to get okay at submissions, but the– and actually the research teaches you how to write succinctly too, because then you’re writing for the audience of another lawyer, and you’re trying to condense all the research you did into something usable for them, so it has to be something they can plug into the submissions that they’re writing. So I guess that sort of transition learning, in the sense that you still had to dive into a lot of ideas, and express those ideas clearly, but not in a flowery, academic way. It had to be really direct.

 

Q: What do you think would have been most useful for you learn as a student that would’ve maybe prepared you better for the kind of writing you do now?

 

A: I think just don’t overdo it [laughter]. Stories can be– everything can be simplified. Principles can be simplified, stories can be simplified. There’s no extra added value in added words, and that that’s okay. I think I thought for a while that using the bigger word made it better writing, but I definitely learned that that wasn’t true.

 

Q: So I want to talk a little bit about what’s at stake in your writing, some of it maybe is obvious. But what are the stakes of your writing? What are consequences for really good or maybe not so good writing in your profession?

 

A: Yeah. Sometimes the stakes are pretty high. So especially those emails to clients, when I’m putting my advice in writing, I have to be really careful with making sure it’s accurate, and also making sure it’s comprehensible to the client. And so if either of those – I mean the accuracy is the key one – but if the comprehensibility is not there, I’m just making work for myself in having to then schedule a phone call and walk through the concept and not– I need to create sort of a record of what’s gone on on a file too, and that record isn’t as good if the writing isn’t clear enough for the client to understand it. And then the stakes for the, I mean the stakes for the submissions are, if it’s not convincing enough, then you don’t succeed in your argument I suppose. And I also think if it’s sloppy, that creates an impression on the adjudicator of your skill and your expertise and can influence the outcome as well. And especially if it’s confusing, I find that when I read arguments that are confusing I find them much less convincing. And so the clearer it is and the better presented it is, I think the more likely you are to succeed.

 

Q: So it’s interesting, it sounds like, you know, you’re writing in that, since it’s maybe the first impression that some of people are going to get of you as a lawyer, you know, you kind of want that presentation. Is there a certain, I don’t know, trait that you want to be present or visible in your writing for say, adjudicators or your clients or anybody reading your work?

 

A: Yeah, that’s a good question. I want them to read it and have it immediately make sense. So that, and I’ve read good writing on both sides. So sometimes I read the other side’s submissions and I’m like, “Oh shoot! That makes perfect sense to me and I’m trying to advocate against that.” So you should read it and immediately buy into what’s being said so that it’s hard to challenge that perspective, or for the other side to get under the skin of it, because it’s so obvious in the way that it’s written that it must be true or the right approach.

 

Q: What would you say the most difficult thing about writing in your field is?

 

A: Condensing large amounts of information into short, persuasive sentences.


Q: Has anyone helped you formally or informally with your writing since you’ve left school?

 

A: Yep, I mean I had the articling year when, that was a mentoring relationship. Other than that, it would just be feedback that I get from co-counsel. Generally, if they’re giving me feedback, they’re more senior, so that would be informal, but I would still try and learn and adopt from it.

 

Q: You’ve talked a little bit about that ability to kind of be succinct, so if this is redundant you can say so, but if there’s any other ways in which this question applies, feel free. So how do you think you’ve most evolved or improved as a writer so far throughout your career?


A: Yeah, it’s similar to things I’ve said before I think. Learning how to be direct and not being– learning how to simplify things instead of complicate them, I guess [chuckle], yeah.

 

Q: Okay, just a few more questions. And again, this might be obvious because we’ve talked about this a little bit already, but to what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization as well as the discipline or field of law as a whole?


A: Right. Valued, I think it’s very valuable, whether or not it’s valued by everyone [chuckle] is an interesting question. I think everyone has different approaches to how precise they feel they need to be; and I’ve definitely read submissions that are all over the place, and full of spelling errors, and not formatted properly. So I’m not sure if everyone in the profession sees that the real value in that being a vehicle to persuade people. And I know– I think I like writing, is part of the reason why I put energy into making something flow properly, and just read well. But I do know, especially the work I do, is before a really informal tribunal. So you could, to get a certain request granted, you could file three lines, or you could file three pages. And I’m in the camp of people who would file three pages, just in case, and also because why not? So I guess, I prefer email over the phone, but there are definitely people I practice with who would prefer the phone over email. So, where I might email a client to create a paper trail of what I’ve told them, I have colleagues who would call. So I definitely think it’s valuable and a really key component of practice, but there are definitely people who practice differently and, you know, still succeed, and rely on writing much less than I do.

 

Q: So, last question. How would you define successful writing as a student, versus what you consider to be successful writing now? And would you consider yourself a successful workplace writer, why or why not?

 

A: Okay. I think successful writing when I was a student I understood as being thoughtful and reflective and, to be honest, wordy. Like a lot of the academic language was something you were supposed to be using and deploying in an academic context, and about toying with ideas instead of settling on them, just sort of batting them around. In my profession now, I see, I think I’ve mentioned, I see successful writing as being succinct, and persuasive, and not necessarily simple, but able to condense big concepts into basic language. And do I consider myself successful? I think, you know, I’d like to think that I’ve come to a place where I have the tools I need to succeed when I sit down to write something. I think when I read the things other people have written in my field, I always try and learn from that, and implement their tactics to enhance mine. But it is one of the things that I really enjoy about my work, and I think that because of that, I’ve been able to succeed because I like doing it, so.

 

Q: Great, thank you so much.

 

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