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When Feedback Falls Flat

I often work with attorneys who are several years into their careers. They’ve received lots of feedback, but why hasn’t it generated the results their supervisors intended?

Attorneys often resist feedback because they don’t understand what’s behind it. Explain your advice so they’ll more likely heed your suggestions.

You say: “Be more concise.”

They think: “If I cut from my writing, I might lose something important.”

You need to explain: “Cutting clichés, legalese, and longwinded phrases allows more space, not less, for what’s important: the law and the facts.”

You say: “Write more clearly.”

They think: “I don’t want my writing to seem dull or simplistic.”

You need to explain: “If readers don’t understand your sentences, they won’t find your prose ‘interesting’ or ‘complex.’ They’ll assume you are a poor writer or, worse, a poor thinker. By contrast, if readers feel smart when they read your writing, they’ll think you are smart. No partner or judge has ever said, ‘Terrific brief. I see the issues clearly and understand how to resolve them. I just wish the attorney had used bigger words and a more complicated sentence structure.’”

You say: “Your argument is hard to follow.”

They think: “The law is always complicated.”

You need to explain: “Hone in on a few key messages so the reader doesn’t get lost in the details. Outlines can help if they focus on answering the reader’s likeliest questions, but not if they simply retrace the steps of your research.”

You say: “You need more details on your authorities.”

They think: “What do you mean? I have paragraph after paragraph describing various cases.”

You need to explain: “Describe less and analyze more. Explain how the cases help make your argument, not what the parties did or even what the court ‘stated’ about each issue. Move beyond copying and summarizing; connect your authorities to your argument so the reader doesn’t have to do it for you.”