What to do third in editing a legal brief

Step one of editing a legal brief is to make sure that the main message is clear.

Step two of editing a legal brief is to ensure that each section advances the argument and works well with the other sections.

Step three is similar to step two, but now focuses on individual paragraphs. Now look carefully at the paragraphs within each section. Your goal is to ensure that the paragraphs work smoothly together, are all advancing the message of the section that they are in, are in the right order, and are well-constructed.

Go section by section. First read through the section, paying attention to the contribution of each paragraph. Does the argument progress from paragraph to paragraph? If a paragraph just marks time, or raises an unnecessary side issue, cut it. If it is out of place, move it. If you can’t clearly say what its purpose is (and you should say it, out loud, to make sure that it really does have one that you understand), it needs editing. Does every sentence in the paragraph contribute to the message of that paragraph? If not, you know what to do.

Once these fine-structure matters have been attended to, look at the flow from paragraph to paragraph. Does each paragraph echo, explicitly or implicitly, the preceding one? Are there subheaders that reflect the structure of the argument within the section, and if not, should there be? Do transitional sentences adequately handle that job?

When paying attention to flow, don’t let the fact that you’re reading a section at a time make you overlook the transitions between sections. You’ve focused on that in step two, but in reading the opening paragraphs of sections, make sure that they gracefully move the reader from the previous theme into the new one.

Once you’re done with step three, if you’ve done the steps competently, you will have a very clear and direct brief in which every element pulls in the same direction. Your reader will know exactly what you are asking for and why.

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