Monday, March 06, 2006

Persuasion: frame your facts

What should you write in the first sentence or paragraph of your facts statement in a brief? How do these efforts strike you?
  • On July 21, 1998, Defendant Jaysen Wright, traveling at about 80 miles per hour on Highway 102 in Keline, Texas, crashed into Plaintiff Sandra Gonzalez.

  • On June 1, 1997, Wallace Barton began employment with the Alaska Commission on Wages as Assistant Director of Administrative Services.

  • The Administrative Law Judge thoroughly set forth the relevant facts and hearing testimony in his decision of October 28, 1999.
These are not student-written briefs. I got these from real lawyers. Yet they all seem to suffer from the same writing malady: they jump into the story--usually at the beginning--without setting the stage. This is not to mention that they all seem unduly focused on a date.

That's great if you know the story or if you are ready to hear it from beginning to end. But for those unfamiliar with the story, jumping right in can be difficult.

Experts suggest you set the stage first. One book suggests "creating a container" before you pour in the details. See Armstrong & Terrell, Thinking Like a Writer at 18, 142.

I suggest writing a "framework" sentence or paragraph to quickly orient your reader to the scenario. It might even hint at the legal issue. Here are possible rewrites:
  • This case arose when the defendant, Jaysen Wright, crashed his car into Sandra Gonzalez's car at about 80 miles an hour, thus depriving her of a vehicle for 32 days. [This brief sought compensation for her "lose of use" of the vehicle.]

  • The Alaska Commission on Wages hired Wallace Barton as its Assistant Director of Administrative Services but fired him only 8 months later; Wallace contests the firing as wrongful.

  • This appeal challenges the ALJ's finding that the plaintiff, Cliff Cierpinski, is capable of performing a significant number of jobs that exist within the national economy. The facts and the ALJ's amply supported findings are as follows:

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