Good Writing

A federal judge, who will not be named, once said to me: “Will, you are the best writer who ever clerked for me.”

And while it may sound immodest, I am a pretty good writer, and I get that feedback often. I’m good because I care. You’d be surprised at how many lawyers do not.

Whether your potential lawyer can write should be central to your decision about what lawyer to hire. Except for certain very basic kinds of law that we do not do – real estate closings and traffic tickets come to mind – writing figures prominently in the successful resolution of a legal matter. Think about it. Writing takes many forms. Not just legal briefs, but persuasive letters to opposing counsel, emails, legal memoranda addressed to you in understandable language, settlement agreements, and even text messages. Communication is how cases are resolved. Best to control communication well.

Good writing reflects your lawyer’s ability to think. A lawyer who writes poorly conveys low quality analytical ability.

Good writing demonstrates the depth and breadth of your lawyer’s reading, and lifelong reading is a function of intellectual curiosity. Along with natural skill and practice, reading is the principal driver of writing skill. You want a curious lawyer who reads voraciously. The lawyer with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and for absorbing the written word of others will be not only articulate, but well prepared. They will be versed in both the facts and law of your case, and students of the actors in your legal matter.

A lawyer who writes well probably sees law as the art that it is.

I insist on writing as well as I can, and I have been addicted to books – legal and non-legal – since I first opened one. You can’t find a solution to every problem in life in a book, but you can find most answers there. And to the extent you cannot, the frequent company of books will teach you how to think through a solution independently. Coupled with extensive experience in life and the law, I believe my reliance on heavy reading is why my clients find I can offer wise advice and solve most of their problems.

Schools are not such good teachers as life experience and reading, but to the extent that schools can teach one to be a better writer, I learned writing at the best of them. I studied English and American Literature at Brown, an excellent Ivy League university in Rhode Island. Then, while I was earning my law degree, I got a Master’s in English from Duke University here in North Carolina.

I insist on hiring attorneys for our firm who can write well too, and we help them become better writers once they join the firm. Other attorneys here also have English degrees and post-graduate degrees with a heavy research and writing focus.

I like to write so much that I do it in my free time too. I blog about writing and other matters related to building a strong law firm at the Terpening Law Blog and I frequently publish articles on various legal issues.

Here are some illustrative examples: