Legal Writing Tip: Statement of Facts, Part Two

By Savannah Blackwell BASF Bulletin Contributor

When writing the statement of facts, choose your material wisely, set it forth clearly, and end it with a kick.

Many judges consider a brief’s statement of facts to be the most important section, or at least as important as the introduction. As they say, “a case well stated is more than half argued.”

Good trial attorneys know that winning a case is really about telling the best—the most compelling—tale.

Here are five more tips that will help you do that.

Pick up the pace
The flow of the story is important. You want the judge to be able to read through this section at a fair clip and still get the big picture. Don’t let the prose get bogged down in minute details and extraneous facts. Present only the relevant. Long-winded descriptions of events and experiences are boring. Every statement you make should be necessary for understanding the case and deciding the outcome—or add human interest. If a fact is in there, the judge will think it is important. If it is not, do not distract her with it.

As one stylist has noted, “The trick is to keep things moving forward without skipping anything important.”

A bulleted list of facts can be helpful
If a number of facts are critical to a particular determination or condition, consider setting them forth as a bulleted list of items.

Legal and other technical writing experts recommend use of the bulleted list as a way to untangle ideas and deliver information in easily digestible bites. Bullet dots make the salient points visually easy to identify and increase readability.

Use bullets when no one fact in the list is more important than another. Introduce the list with a sentence ending in a colon, and indent it as if it were the start of a new paragraph.

Make liberal use of headings
Use headings to break up the fact section and “add persuasive effect.” Unlike in the argument section, topic headings can be effective in the statement of facts, as in, “Betty’s Alibi.” Complete sentences work well, too, e.g.: “Fred and Barney make a deal.”

Ross Guberman offers a few other tips on writing the factual statement in Point Made (2d ed. 2014).

Show, don’t tell
This commandment for good journalistic writing is a propos here. Scour the record for facts so clear and compelling that they “make the case on their own.” Rather than characterizing these facts and telling the court what they mean, present them in a narrative form.

End with a bang
End the section with a poignant revelation (a “kicker” in journalistic terms), or hit again on your idea of what the case is about.

Now you’re ready to write the arguments.

 

Attorney Savannah Blackwell is a former news reporter who covered government and politics for more than a decade, mostly in San Francisco. She can be reached at savannah.blackwell@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SavannahBinSF.