Jul 31, 2014

TIPS FOR BETTER LEGAL DRAFTING SKILLS




“The brief of arguments of the appellants consisted of forty-two pages. It was unnecessarily long, windy, confused, confusing, repetitive, and it contained too many narratives rather than arguments..... The brief of arguments of the appellants in this appeal is a clear example of how not to draft a brief of arguments”.   
-          Abiru, J.C.A.
Nagebu Co (Nig.) Ltd v. Uniy Bank Plc [2014]7 NWLR(Part 1405) 42


The above quote is the comment of a Honourable Judge on the brief of argument of one of the parties in the suit, well if you cannot recognise one, this is a classic bench slap and I wonder how the lawyer must have felt listening to the Justice in open court, if it were me, I will ask the floor to split open and swallow me whole have been slightly embarrassed, well maybe not slightly. 

In the legal profession, there happens to be a lot of writing, that’s why one of the invaluable assets that a counsel must always possess is good drafting skills. Briefs of arguments contain the story of a party on which the courts Justices are called upon to adjudicate. Like all good stories, the arguments in brief must flow; they must be consistent, they must be concise, they must be comprehensive, they must be comprehensible; and they must be accurate. 

Some of the eternal qualities of a good brief of arguments are brevity and precision, no one wants to read pages of unnecessary information that will not help a client or like some lawyers do, include lines from popular poems or dramas. A brief of argument must not be too short as to leave out the essentials and must not be too long as to become otiose. The goal must be to achieve maximum brevity consistent with accuracy and clarity. 

A good brief does not allow for verbosity and must be a succinct statement of a party’s argument in the appeal. A well crafted brief makes for joyful reading while a badly crafted one is tedious and laborious to understand and it is like a bad story which leaves an audience disgruntled, disgusted and unhappy. This point was well made by the Supreme Court in Ports & Cargo Handling services Company Limited & 3 Ors v. Migfo Nigeria Ltd. & Anor (2013) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1333) 555 at para. G where Galadima, JSC stated thus:
“A brief of argument has the connotation of a really concise and succinct expression of the appellant’s complaint and the respondent’s reaction on the issue or issues presented to the court for consideration. Clarity, simplicity and directness of expression are the hallmarks of a good brief. ‘Although the rules of the Supreme Court do not limit a party to a number of pages in a brief of argument, the brief should not be unnecessarily voluminous and contain repetitive arguments of the issues settled.”
Counsel must understand that a long and windy brief is discouraging to the court Justices saddled with the determination of an appeal and can only amount to disservice to the cause of a litigant. Litigation is not a long essay competition where success is determined by the length of the brief of arguments and it has been said that repetition does not improve an argument – Uwazurike v. Nwachukwu (2013) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1342) 503

The court of Appeal, speaking on the necessary drafting skills a counsel must possess, said in SCOA (Nig) plc v. Danbatta (2002) 13 NWLR (Pt. 785) 461 at 472 paras. D –F thus:
“Drafting is an important tool in advocacy. A solicitor who could not resent his client’s case clearly in the brief, if it is a case in the appellate courts, or in the pleadings, if it is a case before the High Court or Federal High Court, could not adequately represent the interest of his clients. An otherwise good case is destroyed and lost by bad pleadings, ...counsel should pay more attention to drafting as no counsel could be good and make marks in advocacy if he is poor in drafting mechanism”.  
As a lawyer, being excellent at brief writing sounds like an awesome advantage but it takes a lot more than wishes to make it happen. There is no substitute for committing to perfecting both your written and spoken English by reading more, learning new words and writing over and over and over again. Don’t forget that practise makes perfect.


  
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