Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to Write a Motion in State Court

If you only had thirty seconds to convince someone of your position, what would you say? Whenever I write a motion, I have the attitude that I have thirty seconds to convince the judge that my position is the right one. I have one page, maybe two, to grab her attention and convince her I’m right. Thirty seconds. The rest of the motion is spent proving I’m right. Here’s how to do it:

Start with a strong introduction. In a sentence or two, tell the court why your position is the right one. Hit the ground running with a strong start that makes your case.

Get to your point. Let the court know why you are seeking relief. Do not leave her guessing why you filed your motion.

Stick to your point.
Once you make your point, stick to it throughout the motion. Don’t wander off the path. Digressions distract.

Support your point. Once you make the point, support it with the law. Do your research and find the cases that support your positions. When doing research, think outside the box. Do not limit yourself to cases and statutes. Find law review and Florida bar journal articles. Cite Florida Bar publications, such as the Discovery Handbook.

Confront your weaknesses. If there are cases that hurt your position, confront them. Don’t ignore the other sides strengths. Point them out to the judge and show why you win despite them.

Less is more. Keep the motion brief. Say as much as you can with as few words as possible. Judges are busy. A three page motion that makes a strong point is better than a ten page motion that makes no point at all.

Use the Active Voice. The subjects of your sentences should not be victims. Things don’t happen to them. They make things happen. Speak in the active voice. Avoid passive verbs such as "is" or "was." Active sentences are clearer and get to the point faster.

Edit, Edit, Edit.
Don’t be happy with your first draft, your second, or perhaps even your third. Edit out the excess sentences, phrases and words. Make sure your argument holds water, the transitions are smooth and the word choice is proper.

Speak plainly.
Avoid legalize and ten dollar words. Use short words, direct sentences, and avoid the "heretofores" and the "saids."

Speak confidently.
Don’t be bashful. If you are not confident about your position do not expect the Judge to be.

Make it a good read.
You may not be John Grisham but that does not mean your motion should put a judge to sleep. Make your writing strong, persuasive and interesting.

Make it clear what relief you are seeking.
Don’t simply ask the judge for relief. Be specific about the relief you are seeking.

Do not overstate or misstate.
Remember your job is to persuade, not misrepresent. If a case does not support your position, do not say that it does.

Do not take personal shots.
Keep it professional. Do not attack the other side or opposing counsel. Do not confuse being an advocate with being a jerk.

Attach the relevant documents.
If you are going to reference a document or affidavit, attach it to the motion so the judge can see it for herself.

When you write a motion, keep in mind that someone else is going to read it. Put yourself in the judge’s shoes and give her what she wants. Tell the judge what your position is, why she should agree with it and what relief she should grant. By doing so you increase the likelihood that the motion you drafted will be a winning one.