Legal writing–crafting motions, pleadings, and other litigation documents–can be a lesson in frustration. Yet, as the only opportunity to speak to the judge, proper motions can be a case-saver for self-represented litigants. If you’re prepared to take on this challenge, here are a few pointers to get you started.
You can do legal writing.
Legal writing as described in this article is not the writing of wills, contracts, and similar one-time documents. Legal writing as used in this article is the writing that’s required to move litigation along. That is, motions, pleadings, notices, discovery requests and so on. That’s harder than writing a will, but it’s not rocket science.
The most important thing to know about motions and other litigation documents is that they’re formula-driven. This does not mean they’re easy to write, but it does mean the judge is looking for your writings to be done in a particular way, and that way is not new or overly complex.
Court clerks offices make available forms in which you can draft motions and pleadings. Simply complete them as instructed and file them. However, if you’re in real litigation, there’s a limit to how useful these forms will be for your case.
As the case progresses, forms may not be useful or appropriate for what you need. You’ll realize at some point that forms aren’t working for you. That’s when you’ll need to do your own legal writing from scratch. Still, it’s not rocket science.
Be sure all necessary components of a motion are present.
Motions are not uniform, but there are some basics that every one should contain.
- The caption at the top should include the name of the court, all plaintiffs and defendants, and the court’s docket number, if assigned.
- The title underneath the caption should state the name of the motion, such as “Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment”.
- The opening line is like a greeting or introduction and starts with something like “Comes now…” or similar language.
- The body states the allegations or defenses within the motion and contains case law, facts and statutes.
- Use the closing lines to state what you desire the court to do.
- Include the date at the end of the closing lines.
- Follow the date with a signature and your contact information.
- The certificate of service asserts that all parties in the action have been served with the motion. It lists the names and addresses of the other parties or their attorneys.
- Include exhibits where necessary. In some cases, you’re required to include an exhibit. For instance, when asking for leave to amend a document, you must include the original document as an exhibit
File the right pleading or motion at the right stage of the litigation.
Time the motion or pleading strategically. For instance, if you haven’t responded to or answered a complaint, the Motion for Summary Judgment may be premature and summarily denied. Then, it may be too late to answer. How do I know? Because, in my learn-as-you-go approach to litigation, I made the mistake of moving for summary judgment before gathering enough evidence to support it.
Know the due date, and give yourself time to meet it.
There’s nothing like a missed due date to ruin a case. Too many pro se litigants find themselves on the losing end of a lawsuit because they missed a due date–sometimes by a mere day or so. Where courts are often lenient in the writing of a pro se pleading or motion, they are less so with untimely filing of them. This strict adherence to a statute of limitations for pleadings and motions has saved many a lawyer and sank the case for numerous pro se litigants. So, know exactly when your pleading or motion is due and give yourself ample time to write it. A plan to file it an hour before the deadline is not a good idea. What if you get stuck in traffic? A plan to file it the day before is better. Do as best you can with the pleading or motion, but be in the clerk’s office to file it ahead of schedule.
Helpful blog posts on this topic
- Legal Writing Dos And Don’ts For Pro Se Litigants
- Tips For Writing Effective Pleadings
- How To Write A Motion–A Guide And Sample Motions For Pro Se Litigants
- You Too Can Write An Appellate Brief
Pssst! Hey, you there, struggling to win your case. Isn’t it time you gave Courtroom5 a spin? We publish articles like this to help you level the playing field, but it’s sometimes too late to save your case. Stop trying to catch up. Get ahead of the game and start driving your case to the judgment you deserve. See how it works today!