Naming Day: Two Simple Tricks to Make Key Points Stand Out
Learn how to make important points in your writing memorable with the power of naming.
Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame; each to his passion; what’s in a name?
Helen Hunt Jackson
Good writing is intrinsically connected to memory. The more memorable our writing, the easier it is to read. And the more enjoyable. Just think about when you read. If you get a few pages in and the author is talking about “the aforementioned case,” and you can’t remember what the heck that case is—you get frustrated. You have to flip back and figure out what the author is talking about. The experience is anything but smooth.
A profound truth thus reveals itself: The important things in your brief should be easy-to-remember. That way, when you return to those things later, your reader won't have to struggle to follow along.
But making all the important points memorable is tricky for us lawyers. We talk about a lot of convoluted, esoteric stuff. Not to mention the acronyms. Don't get me started on the acronyms!
What's the answer? Consider the power of names.
The courts have thus created an ‘any touch is enough’ requirement for plaintiffs seeking emotional harm. Literally. A brush in a subway. [cite]. A tap. [cite]. A nudge with a foot in a crowded elevator. [cite.]
Now, later in the brief, when the lawyer uses the “any touch is enough” moniker, the reader will instantly remember all the great work the lawyer did in building that rule interpretation.
Another benefit of naming is that it’s an easy way to link ideas, paragraphs, or sections to connect different aspects of one cohesive idea. For example, in the first section of your brief, let’s say you talked about how if there is “no search, there’s no violation” a few times. In later sections of your brief, you should use that same nomenclature—that way your reader can connect the two sections and points.
You can name any important thing that you can think of. Just the act of naming it will help your readers trigger that thing's meanings. To get you started on your naming adventure, here are some common examples (followed by some thoughts about acronyms, because they warrant special attention).
Name What's Important
Let's explore several common concepts, ideas, and points you'll likely want to name in your legal writing.
A Statutory Provision
Repeating a statute’s numbers is horrible; who can remember that? Consider giving statutes a short name, especially if you use a specific provision a lot in your document, or you deal with multiple provisions frequently.
Section 125.321.24(b)(iii) disposes of this case at the outset because it requires claims to be filed with the agency first. This Agency-Exhaustion requirement.
[Ten pages later]
As explained above, this Agency-Exhaustion requirement...
A Legal Principle or Concept from a Case
Consider packaging legal principles or key rules into memorable snippets:
In Jarred v. Davidson, the Ninth Circuit held that courts must consider jurisdiction before getting to the merits. To do otherwise is reversible error.
The court should apply the jurisdiction-first approach...
Cases with Long or Awkward Names
Don't make your reader remember un-rememberable case names:
Sliezhelipr Dist. and Fishing Supplies Accoutrements and More, LLC v. State of California, 314 F.2d 51 (7th Cir. 2019) addressed a contract over fish supplies.
The Fish Supplies case is helpful here...
If you make the effort to explain a key fact, and it's complicated, give it a name:
Hoffman Climbing manufactures its climbing cams by melting down iron and layering it with steel in a proprietary process that combines the molecules in a unique way to make the finished product extremely durable.
This metal-layering process is what Hoffman is suing the defendant for stealing...
Important Documents or Exhibits
A document or exhibit you cite to or rely on that’s important. We lawyers often repeatedly refer to a document or two in our briefs--why not pick a persuasive name for them?
According to the report of Dr. Park, defendant's expert (the "Forensic Science Report"). The Forensic Science Report offers evidence that...
A characterization of any argument or fact or document or thing that is helpful to you. Don't miss the chance to subtly characterize an argument or idea using naming:
In the school's view, its request for a prior restraint is harmless because it "affects only Cooley."
Other Important Concepts, Facts, or Principles
Try naming any concept, fact, principle, or idea that is complicated and would be easier to recall with an easy-to-remember name.
Use Acronyms with Care
Acronyms, let me just say, suck. They are a bunch of letters thrown together that your reader must somehow recall ten pages into your document. I’m not a fan, and the science isn’t either. This goes triple for a long or unfamiliar acronym. Yes, your reader can process CIA just fine. But not MSFGFDH (a real acronym from a federal brief!).
So instead, prefer parties’ names or familiar descriptors, not acronyms. Even just the simple act of referring to parties by words instead of a series of letters helps.
So, perhaps, instead of:
The SLM Data Trust and Logistics Company, Inc. (“hereafter referred to as “SLMDTLC”)
The SLM Data Trust and Logistics Company, Inc. (“Data Trust”).
So what are you waiting for? Get on the naming train.
Write.law co-founder Joe Regalia combines his experience as both practitioner and professor to create exciting new ways to teach legal skills. Learn more about Joe
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