Motions ask a judge to make a ruling on a pre-trial or post-trial legal issue. Newbie pro se litigants spend a lot of time looking for motion forms for this purpose. They’ve heard that court clerks have them for free. Just fill them out and turn them in. Experienced pro se litigants know better. Forms aren’t the best way to handle litigation. If you want the best chance to win on your argument, you’ll write a motion of your own.
Once you determine that writing your own motion using your own wording and research is the way to go, then it’s time to plan it out. First, ask yourself, ‘If I had 2 minutes to convince someone of my position, what would I say?’ Second, remember that the goal of every motion is to persuade the judge to rule in your favor.
Here are some tips on how to write a motion.
1. Map Out Your Ideas
The way you organize your thoughts is the key to writing a winning motion. When you’ve determined all the points you need to make, develop an outline. In it, organize all the pieces of information in a logical way so that your reasoning is easy to follow. You want the judge to know the point you’re trying to convey. Then, determine headings and sub-headings based on your point(s). We’ve included Samples of motions with headings and sub-headings for you to download and review. Keep in mind that headings for one motion may not be appropriate for a different motion, and your set of facts may require a unique heading or two.
2. Draft a Short, Clear Introduction
Include supporting facts in your introduction to let the court know the issue(s) your motion seeks to address. Start with a strong statement, and get straight to the point. Never leave the judge guessing why you filed the motion. You can also mention an applicable law in the introduction to support your position.
3. Stick to and Support Your Point
Keep your points highly relevant throughout the motion – judges don’t like distracting digressions. Everything you say should be relevant and necessary. Moreover, support your claim with law. Doing legal research will help you find cases with facts similar to yours. Be sure that the cases you find are persuasive and supportive on the points you want to make.
4. Acknowledge Your Weak Points
If there are any points that hurt your position, don’t try to overshadow them or eliminate them altogether. Rather, point them out as not as strong as your main point or that they are not as relevant to your set of facts. Be sure to touch on points that your opponent might make. For instance, if they have a strong point, don’t hide it. Show that your point is stronger on your set of facts and or that your opponent’s case has flaws. You need to convince the judge why you have the stronger position despite weaknesses.
5. Keep it Short
When it comes to writing a winning motion, less is always more! Draft a brief motion, saying as much as you can in the most concise way possible. A two-to-three-page motion has more value than a ten-page one that hides the point amongst irrelevant jibberish.
6. Write in Active Voice
Don’t make the subjects in your writing seem like victims. They make things happen, so use active voice throughout your document. Rather than say, ‘The car was driven by Elissa,’ say ‘Elissa drove the car.’ This will further help you make your motion clearer and get your point across quickly.
7. Review and Re-review
Never assume that your job is done perfectly with the first draft of the motion. Read through it several times to make sure there are no potholes. Erase all words, phrases, and sentences that are unnecessary or add no value. Make sure your points are sound and valid, your word choice is accurate, and transitions make sense and aren’t abrupt. If you have time, put it away for a day or so, and review it again with fresh eyes.
8. Avoid Ten Dollar Words
Use 10-dollar words only if they are the best and most appropriate ones for the point you want to make. Otherwise avoid them. Your motion should be plain and transparent. You should use smaller words that have a strong impact. More importantly, avoid at all costs words and concepts you don’t know.
9. Your Tone Should Be Persuasive, Informative, and Confident
You should write with a basic assumption that the court(judge) hasn’t read the motion. Your tone should inform while being persuasive. You’re making the judge aware of the issues in the case so that he or she can make a wise decision on your behalf. You need not be bashful though. If your points are rocking, make the judge see that. Rock ’em.
10. Keep it Interesting. Interweave Law with Facts.
A boring read won’t grab the judge’s attention. However, there is a thin line between making your motion interesting and going overboard. Make sure that you present your points in a manner that won’t put the judge to sleep while complying with the standards of civil procedure. That being said, an argument is more interesting and compelling when you interweave case law with the facts of your case.
11. Be Honest
Remember that your goal is to persuade the judge based on an honest analysis of your position. Don’t misrepresent an appellate case by stating that it supports your position when it doesn’t. The judge will easily identify areas where you’re overstating or misstating. So, it’s best to be honest and maintain credibility than to lose the whole case because the judge thinks you’re dishonest in your motions.
12. Keep it Professional
Many untrained pro se litigants make the mistake of attacking the opposite party or counsel with personal statements. Making personal comments that are irrelevant to the issues in the case, whether about yourself or the other party, is a big NO. Keep things on a professional level with your motions.
13. Keep Cases to a Minimum
When you’re writing your motions, it’s tempting to throw in as many authorities (cases) as you can to make your point. After all, if the judge is moved by one case, wouldn’t he be even more moved by 12? No. Resist this urge. When you’ve found the perfect case to illustrate your point, move on. Rarely do you need more than one or two cases to prove a single point. Use more than that, and your document becomes tedious and boring.
14. Include a Strong Conclusion
One of the major reasons motions fail to make an impact is that they focus too much on the description of the problem and have a thin, unclear conclusion. When you’re writing a conclusion, stick to a few imperative points that offer coherence instead of adding a long list of minor recommendations.
15. Attach Relevant Exhibits
If you you point to or mention any document or affidavit in your motion, make sure you attach a copy of that document at the end of the motion. This is called an exhibit, and should be numbered. The judge understands exhibits and knows where to go to review them.
Far too often pro se litigants lose cases where they should win because of the writing of a motion. This should never happen, but it does happen everyday in America’s courts. The tips above will give you a better likelihood of succeeding, especially in cases where you have the law, the facts, or both on your side.