How to Write Well: Inside ‘Elegant Legal Writing’ – Ryan McCarl  – S8E11

Legal professionals typically have to deal with huge volumes of writing. We spoke with Ryan McCarl, a Partner at Rushing McCarl LLP and Author of ‘Elegant Legal Writing’, about how lawyers can create the best possible briefs, without relying on generative AI models. We also touched on some basic principles for next-generation legal education, including the importance of great communication skills.  

So why should you be listening in?  

You can hear Rob and Ryan discussing:  

  • Ryan’s background in litigation  
  • The challenges of founding a new firm 
  • Writing for law journals and other publications  
  • The common pitfalls of legal writing  
  • How AI could impact the legal industry  


Read more here:

Elegant Legal Writing blog —



Robert Hanna 00:00 

Welcome to the legally speaking podcast. I’m your host Rob Hanna. This week I’m delighted to be joined by Ryan McCall. Ryan is the founding partner of rushing McCall LLP, a business litigation firm based in California. He is an adjunct professor at Loyola law school and was previously a fellow in artificial intelligence Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law. Ryan has experience as a clerk at the United States Courts of Appeal for the tenant circuit and as a litigation attorney at firms such as Wilmer Hale, Ryan also founded the educational technology startup word brewery. Ryan’s book, elegant legal writing was published in 2014 February and has gained recognition from high profile individuals in the legal profession. Ryan is passionate about legal writing litigation strategies and advocacy, having spoken at the American Bar Association litigation section and the Texas Office of the Attorney General. So a very big warm welcome, Ryan. 

Ryan McCarl 00:59 

Good morning. Glad to be here. 

Robert Hanna 01:01 

It’s pleasure to have you, Ryan. And before we dive into all your amazing projects, experiences and everything you’ve been getting up to for the legal community, we do have an icebreaker question here on the legally speaking podcast, which is on a scale of one to 1010 being very real, what would you rate the hit TV series suits in terms of its reality of the law? If you’ve seen it, 

Ryan McCarl 01:22 

I can’t I can’t speak to it too much, because I only watched about five minutes on one episode. And then it was enough. It was unrealistic or off putting in effort for me personally that, that I didn’t want to continue. 

Robert Hanna 01:33 

Well, with that I think you can give it a fair zero and we should move swiftly on to talk all about you and your real legal career. So to begin with, would you mind telling our listeners a bit about your background and career journey? 

Ryan McCarl 01:45 

Absolutely. So I’m currently a founding partner of rushing McCarl LLP. We’re a business litigation firm based in Los Angeles. I’m also the author of elegant legal writing, which came out last month from the University of California Press. And I before that, I’ve taught advanced legal writing courses at UCLA and Loyola study they did was an AI research fellow at UCLA as well. You clerked clerked for Judge eval, the 10th circuit was a litigator in a couple of different firms, as well, before going to UCLA. And before that, before going to law school, I was a high school history teacher for a couple of years. So and then somewhere along the weigh in there, I also found a language learning at tech startup called Word brewery, which taught languages and high frequency vocabulary in about 20 different languages, using real sentences from the news, with the sentences tailored to the individual’s current levels. So there’s been a constant continuous thread or theme. In all the work I’ve done a couple of themes, one being a love of teaching, and the love of writing, I also love litigating, but I don’t really see those as being completely separate skills. My my work as a litigator, entails teaching the job, like through my motions and briefs and oral arguments, I really see it as teaching the court, the judge the legal rules, and principles that will help them decide the case accurately and in my clients favour. And I see the same, the same, the same issue involved internally as I’m helping my team produce the best work product possible. So I never really take off the law professor and, you know, writing teacher hat for too long. And so those different parts of my my current career of teaching, writing, and practising all fit pretty seamlessly into each other. 

Robert Hanna 03:37 

Yeah, and you just summed up some super impressive work in a very short space of time. Now, there’s a lot that I want to unpack, I probably add one extra layer to that as well. It’s tech right, or, you know, almost like advanced ahead of your time in terms of AI, certainly people when they’re talking about AI and language models and everything else and these innovative platforms that you’ve been involved in, I think there’s clearly a passion for tech in there as well, which fuses in nicely to everything that you’re about, but let’s go back to your club days because you did have experiences you say for the United Courts of Appeal for the tents, okay. What was that like talk through experience there? 

Ryan McCarl 04:10 

It was a really a wonderful way to transition into practice, because in that first year, coming out of law school, you know, I guess the the ability to see behind the scenes and work closely with Judge eval and his chambers and work within his chambers and kind of get a sense of how judges operate and, and make decisions behind the scenes was incredibly enlightening. And the full payoff to that experience, I think, only became gradually clearer over time. As I got closer, further along in my career, and, and closer to the point where I was actually arguing in front of judges and and controlling case strategy. It’s a little hard to see the forest for the trees a little bit when you’re in associated a big firm arm. But once if once you transition or if you do transition to working in a smaller firm with a smaller practice group, as I did once i co founded Russian Carl LLP with my partner John rushing, and you’re running litigation from the beginning, you’re the one that’s that’s deciding on the the arguments that are that are going to go into the motion and writing the briefs personally, and with your team. And I would say that having the having the understanding of how judges think, as well as kind of the lessons in professional, just the different aspects of being a legal professional before the bar, a sense of the dignity associated with it, all that all that stuff that I picked up for the first time in my work with Judge eval turned out to be extremely helpful. I often share one anecdote from my, from my clerking experience with my with my team, which I think is an important one for those of us who are kind of boring to argue and love to argue. And that is that Judge Ebell once told me that you have to listen as an advocate for a shift in the judges tone, from when they’ve when they’re entertaining, what you have to say. And then at some point, they’ll reach a decision, and, and shut out alternative possibilities. And at that end, you have to, to, to to avoid annoying a judge to make the judge respect you as an advocate, because you’re showing respect for the tribunal, it’s important to listen carefully for when that shift occurs, and then stop, you know, stop, stop arguing, essentially stop talking. And it’s a even little little lessons like that turned out to be very useful over time, because they, they’ve allowed me to, to speak with judges in such a way, I guess, with a level of comfort, because I’ve worked closely with one for a year, but also in a way that is that is fully respectful of your of their office and that they appreciate. 

Robert Hanna 06:53 

And yeah, and that’s such a great point as well, yeah, just comes to mind, you know, two ears, one mouth. And, you know, I always talk about from my, you know, initial sales training in terms of, you know, tone, pace, volume, really listening out for those sort of subtle details, because details matter. So if you can get taught and pick up those little things along the way, you increasingly become that 1% 2% better than other people that you’re, you’re competing against. So thank you for sharing that story. Really interesting. Okay, so you’ve worked for some powerhouses along the way, as well, you’ve been litigation attorney for the likes of Wilmer Hale, you know, what skills did you pick up that, again, have helped you as you’ve moved on to sort of founding your own firm, those types of firms. 

Ryan McCarl 07:31 

I think, part of what you learn in those first few years of practice, if you work at a big, prestigious firm like that, hopefully, and hopefully in other environments, as well, you learn from your colleagues, you learn what it means to be a lawyer, what it looks like day to day, the you know, the general habit of understanding the stakes of litigation and understanding the pace of litigation, and how you have to maybe adapt your prior your previous work experiences or your your your habits is a student to the realities that a lot of your life is going to be controlled by the client’s needs by the court schedule, and so on. And, you know, I think the one of the most important things that associates can do as they start their careers at a larger firm, when they don’t have a whole lot of some of them, you’re kind of put on large teams that you don’t have, you’re not directly making decisions about about the law or legal strategy, you may just be, you know, I guess, I guess helping people with pre existing projects and helping people with, you know, with with writing that they’ve done, and you’re just helping them execute it. It’s important, I think one of the things you can get out of that, that time period is just to, is just to realise that you’re very early on your growth curve as a litigator. It really is, no matter how smart you are, or how well you did in law school, it really does require a major professional pivot. And you are starting really from scratch, you have you have the the fundamental tools that you bring with you. But those are a lot less important and refined than they will be in five and six, five or six years. And it’s a it’s a blind spot for a lot of new attorneys. Because you know, you kind of assume that you’re, you did well in law school, you’ve done well your whole life. Therefore, this is just the next challenge. And it’s not really that different from what comes before. And I don’t agree with that. In my experience, practising law is quite different from any other life experience I’ve had. And it requires a degree of self discipline and resilience and day to day confidence that that is that takes a little bit of time to develop. And every task that you perform as a lawyer, every experience you have interacting with opposing counsel or taking a deposition, working with a client. It’s like building a habit building, building calluses. I’ve heard one attorney describe it as and everything you do, it’s easier to do again the next time but it’s it’s different, it’s almost, it’s hard to remember when you’re when you’re aways into your career, exactly how little you knew at the beginning. And I think that the most important thing that that that new associates can do is to is to really try to learn and soak in knowledge, learn by observing the way the your colleagues, your more experienced colleagues go about their day, how they practice, what their thought processes are, what they think, is important versus less important, how they prioritise. And, and, you know, be humble about the knowledge that you need to acquire. And the skills you need to require to be able to be to be able to represent clients at a high level. 

Robert Hanna 10:42 

Yeah, and again, it comes back to sort of things that I always tell people to think about when they’re starting their careers, it’s almost like be curious, and to be a sponge, and try and soak up as much wisdom as you can. And, you know, it’s by being in those environments, you’ll learn by osmosis. And you’ll pick up those little things. Because, you know, by and large, it’s these little things, because the law is the law and the way you practice the law and your technical skill sets, yes, they can vary to a degree, but these little things that we were discussing, could potentially have a huge impact on how you win cases or how you get ahead of other people and, and become the top of your field. So you talked a lot about sort of confidence, resilience, you know, a lot of these skills that are needed, I’m sure you’ve needed them through founding your own firm. You know, people always see the headlines, don’t they, they see a law firm, you’re owning a firm, it must be fantastic. Life is amazing, is the easiest, best thing in the world. You know, talk us through your experience from founding, you know, rushing McCall LLP. And, you know, you touched on the type of work you do. But just tell us a little bit more about what you specialise in.   

Ryan McCarl 11:40 

Sure, well, meeting my partner, John rushing was really one of the best things that’s ever happened if not the best thing that’s ever happened in my own legal career. Because my co founding a firm starting a small firm wasn’t really on my radar until I met him. John, John also has a background working at larger firms, he worked at Sidley Austin for for six years or so. And he but he also, you know, after that time, had developed experience, working as a trial lawyer had some had a lot of success in that domain. And he’d also done a stint in as, as an actor and producer in entertainment. And so John’s kind of a larger than life character with this great charisma, and this powerful way of communicating and speaking, it’s a brilliant negotiators, a brilliant trial lawyer, brilliant advocate, and, and are our general inclinations about what we like to do, what parts of the practice we enjoy, and what our skill sets are really fully complimentary. So he’s a, he’s an extrovert, who’s happy being on the phone all day. And, and arguing all day, I’m more of an introvert who likes to, you know, have the bulk of my day spent writing, reading, thinking, delegating, that kind of thing soaking in getting getting really deep into the weeds of the case. So I can help guide strategy. And so it really just, everything’s really natural division of labour between us and between kind of his oral advocacy skills and negotiation skills, client and working with clients skills, and administrative skills. And what I bring in terms of legal strategy and writing, and and kind of managing managing case is, it leads to a pretty powerful, one two punch for our clients. And so the fact that we both have backgrounds at top firms as well, I think makes us quite different from a lot of other boutiques in that, you know, we both we set out at the beginning to kind of maintain the same standards we’d observed and practice and been part of it, the larger firms and and just just practice them on a boutique scale. And I think that as a result, people underestimate other opposing counsel from large firms sometimes initially, may underestimate us, because because we’re, you know, four years old, and we and we have a smaller team. But that’s to their peril, because we practice a lot of very, very high level. 

Robert Hanna 14:04 

Yeah, and it’s true, isn’t it? I always say, you know, Boutique is beautiful. And you know, it’s not always just about, you know, being the absolute largest out there. Yes. Like you say you’ve acquired all this skill or this experience, but just because you’re in a different environment now doesn’t think that you’ve lost that skill in any way and actually probably enhanced yourself because there’s more skills that you pick up along the way. With that, so yeah, and I like the fact that you talked about complementary skill sets as well. I think you don’t want exactly replicas of the same people with the same skills within the firm because you want different opinions or different strengths in certain areas, because you can’t all be strong in absolutely every area. So if you’ve got people in those really strong places, you can play them to their strengths. So you touched on it there in terms of what you enjoy doing and like where your strengths are, but talk us through like a typical day or the co founder of a you know, a law firm like yours, you know, what do you get up to what are some of the responsibilities as a as a partner? Absolutely. 

Ryan McCarl 14:54 

So it’s, it’s usually there’s there’s always going to be some some thinking through intakes With John meeting with prospective clients meeting with current clients, and doing on the operation side, I felt, you know, building the firm’s processes in terms of task tracking, calendaring, all these all these little details that are invisible to associates a big firm sometimes because sometimes behind the scenes, there’s there’s software there’s there’s a whole, you know, armada of paralegals and and legal secretaries. And when you start a firm, as a smaller group, you have to sometimes build those, those type of operations from scratch. And, and, you know, you sort of you at the beginning, maybe live in constant fear of missing important deadlines and so on, or letting or having something dropped through the cracks. And so the solution is to, is to build systems and, and, you know, training us to develop training programmes and build systems and hierarchy, and that impress upon your team, the importance of following the systems that are created, and then kind of making sure that they’re followed day to day. So that that that helps you get once you have those systems in place, and you trust them, and and your team, and everybody’s kind of rowing in the same direction, then that frees you again to, to focus on getting wins and focus on, you know, the team, you realise, and you’re part of a team that you can trust. And now it’s now and now that I know that I know that if I focus on this one matter that’s coming, that’s coming up for where we are going to file a dispositive motion, where we have to make kind of a decisive choice about case strategy, or, you know, I’m arguing a key, a key motion the next morning, you have to be able to set aside the concerns of you know, the putting out one fire after another answering one email after another, making sure that everybody is doing the right thing, you have to be able to set it aside to get the mental space to work on those projects. Just just as I often had to do when I was writing my book, you know, you really can’t make progress on any, it’s hard. It’s very hard to make sustained progress in any kind of writing projects, whether it’s a big appellate brief, or whether it’s a book or an article or anything else without being able to shut off distractions, both necessary distractions and unnecessary ones, to try to get into the flow and and have all of your mental activity devoted to the one task for a certain block of time. 

Robert Hanna 17:24 

Yeah, I agree. You know, someone who’s easily distracted, I’m very big on sort of, you know, time blocking and being dedicated to a task and setting myself goals, because it’s very easy to get sidetracked by one thing or another. And I’m looking forward to talking a bit more about your writing and your books in a moment. But I want to talk about some of your your memorable cases, because you’ve been involved in several high value cases over the years, including securing $17.8 million federal jury verdict for cosmetic manufacturer. So do you have any other sort of memorable cases or favourite cases that have stood out to you from over the years? 

Ryan McCarl 17:56 

Well, you know, I love I don’t want this to be a cop out answer. But the great thing about starting your own firm, and as being part of a smaller group, and one of the people in charge of it is that you can pick your clients and pick your cases. And John and I both, you know, John, John has a master’s from Oxford and Scholastic philosophy, I have an amateur interest in, in philosophy, I love legal theory, I love you know, getting into the weeds on property law, I read books about pro style, and linguistics for fun. And so we both have this sort of intellectual drive and curiosity. And it does shape the way we, you know, came into the niche settled on the niche of Business Law and Business Litigation. And it shapes what we how we pick cases to some degree, because we don’t neither of us like, to the way we practice, we really, we really like to have a sense of intellectual curiosity about the case that that, that that’s going to provide its own motivation. So passion for this particular client passion for this particular matter. And we’ve realised that complex cases, complex business litigation cases are the sort that really allows us to make the most of our skill set in cases of that where there’s going to be some good faith arguments on different sides of key issues, cases with a bit of factual intra intrigue, and that are going to require some interesting investigation. So you know, we’ve we have one case, one of our earliest cases, which is still ongoing, is a dispute over a large cannabis business. And it’s just an extremely complicated partnership dispute that raises fascinating, practical and theoretical issues related to what happens when co founders go into business together without a partnership agreement or any kind of, you know, shareholder agreement or anything of the sort. They just started working together. And then they work together to build a business for three and a half years and then things start going off the rails and trying to to understand the you know the law around that and develop it into a story that’s ultimately going to be compelling at trial is a really is a really fascinating process. And so there’s quite a few cases like that where I’ve, I’ve had the opportunity to, I used to have this misconception that that you have to be an appellate lawyer or you know, to do interesting legal work, it’s just not true. And I like appellate and trial work and pre trial work really the same in each respect, because, you know, on every, every difficult case, most cases that were, it’s clear as day they settled very early, or an insurer covers them. But most cases that once you get into the point where you have dispositive motions going back and forth, there are some kind of good faith core arguments on either side. And you and very rarely is there something that’s so squarely on point that it just resolves it with no problem. So you can write a one or two page brief, usually, it takes more than that. And so that, so anytime I get to, you know, make creative arguments, it that’s, that’s what, that’s what I love about my work, and it’s what I’m best out, and I get to do it every day, I get to do it a lot more often than I would have expected.  

Robert Hanna 21:12 

Yeah. And it’s clear the passion just using from from the way that you sort of articulate everything that you’ve sort of liked doing and sort of your background. And it’s great because that’s what you want. You know, you want to be passionate about what you’re doing. And you know, we’ve touched on it. We’re going to talk more now about your your legal writings, obviously, there’s something you’re passionate about. Your articles have been published in the Stanford a journal, international law, Cincinnati Law Review, real estate law journal, just to name a few loads and loads and loads. So when did your journey writing for law journal, you start? 

Ryan McCarl 21:42 

So I, during the summer, before, while I was studying for the bar exam, I got, I think my first three or four law review articles accepted, including I think, all the ones you just listed. And that is, I was I was considering becoming a law professor, I ultimately ended up becoming one, but as a part time adjunct, or for the couple of your fellowship I did on the faculty at UCLA. But I decided that the scholarship route was ultimately not for me, because I like I like competition too much, you know, as I’m a former high school track, and cross country athlete in college, as well. And, and I love, I love the competitive aspect of litigation, the way that that provides sort of day to day, the need to really be on your game day to day because your opposing counsels, you know, you just you can’t stand the thought that opposing counsels working harder than you are. And just, it’s not tolerable to me. So. So that turned out to not to not really be interested in the pace of being a full time academic scholarship, I instead like to have one foot in the world of, you know, well, I’m litigating full time to also be teaching a teaching or writing class doing writing CLE is, and, and right, and writing writing books and articles. So the those those articles, getting those published early, was based on developing seminar papers I’d written in law school, and then working with, with, with academic mentors to flush them out into full articles that really set the stage for a good start to my legal career. Because it’s really hard to find time to do that kind of thing once you start. And, you know, although most people spend their summers before taking the bar exam, purely studying for the bar, I just am kind of constitutionally, unable to do just that one thing for the whole summer. And I, you know, I trusted, I trusted that if I spent enough time studying for the bar, it would be enough, but that wouldn’t require it all day, every day. And so I was able to use some of that time to, you know, to get kind of a head start in my career by publishing. Yeah, no, 

Robert Hanna 23:47 

and that’s a great tip for people listening, you know, again, these little things that you can do that can have big impacts and skills along the way, you know, you put in the time and dedicate the time, then, you know, success comes along. So in 2024, February, your book did come out elegant legal writing, and it’s published by the University of California Press, congratulations. What is the aim of the book? And what do you hope for readers to learn? Sure,  

Ryan McCarl 24:10 

the book is about how to write briefs and other documents that judges or your other target reader actually want to read and are likely to read because when you the important mindset shift you have to make and legal writing. And most professional writing for that matter is that nobody is reading your brief because they choose to, they are reading it because it’s a tool that they feel they must read in order to help them reach a decision. And when you when you shift your mindset to that you realise that the judge actually nobody’s watching the judge. So there’s no guarantee that they have to read your brief carefully or at all. And the and then you learn anecdotes about how busy judges are, especially at the trial court level. For example, I I’ve spoken with a state court judge who who said that they had a active docket of 1200 civil cases. And in even in the federal courts, here in the Central District of California, I’ve heard of case case loads ranging from anywhere from 250 to 450. And upwards for the individual district court judges, that’s really hard to even conceive of, for me, as, as somebody who, you know, we’ve adopted kind of a slow growth mentality at our firm, where we make sure we can fully do, you know, execute on and do our best on a case before we take it. And we don’t, we don’t allow ourselves to get overwhelmed, we just paste the intakes such that, you know, we take the cases that that really are going to benefit the most from from us. And then we’ll really make sure we’re going to really execute at a high level. And when you think about having a portfolio of cases of 500, or 1200, as a judge, you start wondering how they, how they possibly do that. And if it was a physical time, and that should lead you to the insight that judges don’t have patience for, for long winded, kind of blustering litigation filings, they your litigation filing has to be seen by the judge instantly as a helpful tool, a tool that will help them make the legally correct decision, that’s unlikely to get them reversed. And so with that in mind, from the beginning of the brief onward, you should be showing the judge that you’re going to be helpful, getting straight to the point, the leading with your with your best argument on page one. And then thinking about the readers attention span and motivation throughout the writing process to how are you going to get the judges attention and keep them reading. So the book draws on a lot of insights from cognitive psychology, the idea of, you know, readability narrative techniques from from fiction writing, such as thinking about pacing and rhythm. And it’s all it’s all about trying to get the judges attention, right in a way that they’re going to find persuasive, and hold their interest throughout the duration of the brief. 

Robert Hanna 27:10 

Yeah, and it’s fascinating. And, you know, let’s dive a bit more on the book, particularly the, as you mentioned, because there’s a lot of detail in there. And it’s a really good piece of information, I would highly encourage people to check out because you also spent the book into three parts, style, substance and process. So would you mind briefly explaining these three different parts and the topic you cover in each? 

Ryan McCarl 27:33 

Sure. So the the book, The my notes of the book originated when I was teaching when I designed an advanced legal writing course at UCLA School of Law, and having taught ninth graders before before going to law school, I have always been interested in this in this in this question of how do you get students to, to read? And how do you convey information as quickly and efficiently as possible? Especially when you can’t take the motivation of the student or the reader for granted? And so the books that what I, the first thing I did when I was researching for the book back in, you know, 2020 or so, was to really read pretty voraciously all the books I could get my hands on about pro style, generally and about legal writing, specifically, and then think about what are the most important lessons out there the most important kind of consensus principles about audience subnets, about sentence structure and so on? And then how can I distil them into very, very small bite sized lessons, which are illustrated by real examples drawn from the sort of litigation filings that the students will be prepared. So I got I developed that curriculum, I gathered those examples. And the first part of the book, the part relating to style, really describes those core techniques, the content core techniques for writing concisely for, for how to how to structure sentences in a way that is friendly to the readers, working memory, how to, how to organise a brief as a whole, what principles go into thinking through through that part of it. And, and really, it’s so it’s really about prose composition, in mechanics for that first part, and that that’s, that’s the part of the book that’s, that’s the heart of the book, and it’s gotten the most attention. And what I’ve heard has about it, as it’s gotten really great, great reception across the legal profession, both from students and professors and from practitioners is I’ve heard that people really appreciate the pace of lessons and the fact that they’re all illustrated by example. So I just I didn’t I didn’t go in assuming that people want to read about prose composition, I went in assuming the opposite. And so with that in mind, I tried to get across a lesson or a point so quickly, that the it’s inconceivable that that somebody could get bored because there’s just so the there’s so much information packed in as as as quickly as possible and as pleasantly to read as possible that they that, that you learn it and you’re on to the next thing. So that’s, that’s really on the substance or on the style side than on the substance side, I looked, I learned from, you know, grading students papers and opposing and observing what I’ve been observing work done by, you know, by myself earlier in my career by opposing counsel by, by people who work for us re observing where arguments sometimes fall off the track, or why, why something is less persuasive, whilst one way of talking about a legal precedent is less persuasive than another. And so I’ve always kept my notes on feedback I’ve given and I’ve tried to distil principles about those as well. And I’ve and I, I’m sort of, in the substance, part of the book, I really go straight to some of the things that cause the most trouble for for students and attorneys weigh in and try to help provide actionable ways to address those. In it, for example, I discuss the what it means to be when your writing is conclusory, when you’re expressing, you know, you’re expressing the way you want the judge to rule or you’re expressing, you’re stating that the legal test applies, or comes out as legal analysis comes out a certain way or that a previous case supports you. But you’re not fully articulating the essential reasoning behind it, I help people identify that that problem and show them how to fix it, I talked about the the structure of legal authority, that what what cases a site and how many need to cite for each point, and, and then how to structure how to structure your arguments into into into ones that are going to be persuasive. And, and, and gotten across as clearly and efficiently as possible. So the process part, I think that the that writing is difficult, you know, there’s especially if you’ve, for somebody that’s written articles or a book, there may be a belief that, that is that it’s easier for me than it is or for any professional writer than in fact, it is. It’s and I actually, I think any professional writer, there’s a reason that they talk about writer’s block, and so and resistance, as often as so many do, because productivity and sustained focus work is very hard, especially in the digital age. So I have, I think maybe one of the longer chapters in the book is A is called the mental game of writing. And it really compresses, in a short form the most important product, most important and non obvious productivity tips that I’ve done I’ve ever developed. I’ve sorry, that I’ve ever learned, some of them I’ve developed but mostly they’re ones I’ve learned from I’ve learned from elsewhere, and I’ve kind of gathered them and put my own spin on them. And, you know, we talked earlier mentioned time blocking, there’s, there’s the concept of flow of getting, you know, of getting in the state of work of writing such that it’s, it’s actually almost feels effortless, because, because you’re so immersed in the problem and, and avoiding distractions. So that so I think I’ve gotten I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on that chapter. And then also on the chapter on writing technology, which talks about, you know, sort of, again, non obvious tips, tips that a lot of lawyers turns out, are not are not familiar with, such as, you know, using text expansion to quickly, you know, type in a snippet of text and then produce, you know, an entire length longer phrase or paragraph. And, to me, it’s it, it always surprises me that, that other people are willing to, you know, to type out a phrase like, you know, reasonable care, or, you know, United States sister court, every time when I would just write some three or four character shortcut to produce that. And so a lot of that, so that chapter, that part of the book is really about introducing litigators to these things that they really should be doing to save themselves a lot of time and it goes beyond. I don’t have anything in there that’s really that I would consider to be kind of run of the mill or standard advice that most people are familiar with the selection principle was, it’s going to be useful for a lot of practising lawyers, and most practising lawyers. I know don’t do it.   

Robert Hanna 34:20 

Yeah. And that leads nicely on to what I was going to ask next, actually, in terms of common pitfalls that you see when it comes to legal writing, especially regarding litigators and and how they can overcome these what would you say to that?  

Ryan McCarl 34:33 

Well, the the first that comes to mind, of course, is just the that we’re still using legalese. We’re still using very indirect and kind of convoluted ways of writing that, you know, that I think are largely the result of path dependence or the way that people learn by observing what their superiors did earlier in their career, the way that some judicial opinions are writing the way upon So writing, the way that, you know, the old form books that exist on Lexis and Westlaw and provide templates, the way those are written the way contracts are written. And so there’s a lot of writing practices standard phrasings like each and every any and all terms and conditions, you know, comes now before the court, these these ritual phrases, these indirect ways of writing and talking, that are, they’re almost like they’re designed to make you seem like you’re a lawyer, or you know, and you’re part of this, this sort of professional ingroup. But they’re not they’re not, they’re not intended there. Nobody’s ever really thought through with people that are using that habit, haven’t really thought through whether they serve the reader and whether they make the reading, easy to read or not. And sometimes we use the habits invisibly, just because that’s how we learned, you know, that’s what we’ve picked up over the course of our writing career. So, but I think for a long time, both in general prose style and and also in the legal writing academic community, there has been a consensus in favour of abandoning legalese and writing in plain language. So the book talks about, you know, provide specific tips about what that means and how to write concisely and write in a way that is that is reader oriented. And that that is that is designed to convey your message as concisely and persuasively as possible, based on an assumption that the judge that’s reading your brief is only going to be reading it if they find it helpful. And they’re only going to be devoting the minimum possible energy that they need to that they believe they need to get to, to grasp your argument. So I think what you find in most litigation briefs is, is a burying of the lead is a lot of roundabout ways of talking within a sentence within the whole document, repeating information that we cover, that that ultimately turned out to be, upon reflection, a distraction, rather than a help to the judge.  

Robert Hanna 36:57 

Yeah, I you know, I always say it’s better to be clearer than it is to be clever sometimes. And you know, it’s very apparent that you know, what you’re teaching in terms of being concise, of course, you need to make sure you’re putting the right things in there concise manner in there is far better than the say, like trying to be to around the houses and not getting to the point. Okay, I want to talk about sort of, you know, your views on next generation education, because you’re currently adjunct professor at my law school, how do you think law schools are adapting their curriculums? If they are to prepare future lawyers for the increasing role of AI in the legal profession?  

Ryan McCarl 37:29 

Oh, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of talk about it. I was just at a legal writing conference, hosted by Loreal a few days ago. And, you know, anytime you go to an academic conference, right now, there’s a lot of presentations and discussions in those discussions on academic lists, or listservs, mailing lists, about how to teach about AI, how and whether to incorporate it into the curriculum. And I think there’s a general consensus that that needs to be addressed or, or taught or talked about somehow, maybe it should be, to some extent, maybe it should be taught expressly. Of course, there’s a danger, you know, to make it too, too big of a part of the one ELA curriculum, based on the current tools, which, you know, we’re only in maybe year two of of generative AI after the after the, you know, the GPT breakthrough. I think, but I think you know, and I personally believe, as somebody who’s taught at different levels for many years, that, that the bigger the biggest risks that that it poses to students at every stage is that they may not the process of struggling through a problem, the process of thinking it through, and then writing out an analysis is so fundamental to what you you’re going to do in your career, and what you need to be able to do well, to be a good lawyer. And the idea that it’s going to that you can just delegate that process to a programme, a computer programme of any kind, no matter how impressive is, is just a recipe for it’s a recipe for not being a good lawyer because you don’t have the judgement or the understanding, to understand, you know, if you’ve if you’ve taken that shortcut too often for too long, you may not ever develop the legal judgement, you know, to to be able to evaluate what the programme is telling you and suggesting. And, you know, I find, you know, lawyers just even if they’re, even if they’re kind of repeating something they saw on a case, but they haven’t completely thought through the entire, you know, theory of that of that case and of that doctrine. That superficiality of that knowledge can be can be targeted by the opponent and and undermined very, very effectively, if the opponent is better prepared and has a deeper understanding. I mean, that’s, that’s one of the things that we take pride in doing in our in our firm. And the I think the AI is impressive as it is and as useful tool as it is. I think it’s super important. You to do that too, especially when you’re in the learning stages to work problems in their entirety without the help of of asking a computer programme to do it for you. Yeah. 

Robert Hanna 40:10 

And it just brings back to one of the, the tips that one of my mentors gave me very, very early on. He said he, there’s three things I’m going to teach you to do very well. And he said it’s prepare, prepare and prepare. And it’s so true, right? Because you’re absolutely right, you need to ensure that you’re 100% prepared, because the whole sort of, I guess, notion of this conversation is, is those little details that can really make a huge difference. And if you are just relying on a piece of technology, and maybe it hasn’t gotten to that level of depth that you truly understand. And like you say, opposing counsel picks that up, you can end up falling quite short. So you know, absolutely. I’m all for tools and enabling the use of tools, but making sure that you understand and can make sure that you can really showcase your your legal acumen and win case. Super important. Okay, so let’s stick with AI briefly, because you’re also we’re also a fellow in the artificial intelligence, law and policy at the UCLA School of Law, as you research no doubt, the use of artificial intelligence in the legal profession, how do you think the use of AI and technology will affect the legal industry in the long term? 

Ryan McCarl 41:14 

So I was a fellow just before the Jeep Cherokee came out, and the generative AI revolution occurred. So that was, that was interesting to to be kind of, in the last year, just studying it at a time at his current state, back back in 2020, that 2018 to 2021, just before that big, great leap happened, because it really was a significant leap. In the technology, it was really dramatically a dramatic improvement on everything that had come before. I think it’s, it’s, you know, tempting to, to, for it to seem better than it is. You know, I think the more you know about a topic, the more you are going to be sceptical of the responses, and realise that sometimes there’s a level of superficiality or subtle misunderstandings that they reflect that, you know, somebody with deep deep expertise, can see and and work around. But people who have only kind of a superficial understanding, might not notice, I think those problems, I think that AI programmes the generative AI programmes are, are very useful, especially for getting a quick overview of something of a topic, getting summarising cases, finding information within a sea of documents, asking, you know, finding research leads by asking kind of, you know, I found that, for example, using case Texas co counsel AI memos as to do an initial pass to find cases where I can begin my research has been a very useful tool for me in the past year, year and a half. So I will often assign a research task to one to one of our associates or law clerks. And then at the same time, as I assign it, I may run, I may develop a prompt, and then and then run it through a case text, AI, and then send that to them as well. You know, or alternatively, have them go forward with research, and then check it and then kind of also run the prompts separately without sharing it to see, you know, so it doesn’t kind of prime them. But what it’s useful for is is useful for the fact that in among them, maybe 30, or 40 cases that it cites and provides brief excerpts or summaries from there may be one or two, that, that, even if that could themselves be helpful, but more importantly, are going to be cases where you can find a starting point where they’re talking about the rules, because sometimes, if you know that, there’s, if you if you have an idea of what an intuition of what the law surely must be to address a current situation. But you might not be familiar with a particular doctrine with a particular statute, or a particular kind of line of line of cases or precedent. It’s really finding that that starting point that I think is the crucial step in the reasoning process, alright, I’m sorry, in the legal research process, and the AI tools are very helpful case stacks, in particular has been really helpful in finding that starting point. But what’s what you do then is then you for me, at least, I recommend that traditional research methods take over and you put away the AI and you start reading cases and you fall and you trace citation networks outward from their source. And you know, and think through to make sure you fully understand the doctrine the the obvious, you know, quite embarrassing error that others that some attorneys Sindhu making, as you can see all over LinkedIn. And the news is that they somehow think that running the, you know, the AI at the beginning produces an output that you can go ahead and stick in front of a court. And really, it’s not even close. I mean it they though limitation that I that I see in the, in the use of AI in the, in the legal profession for practising lawyers is that everything because of our duty of competence and our duty of candour to the tribunal, and, and the habit of being detail oriented with respect to your clients rights, when they have so much at stake requires us to, to, to be do more than be have superficial knowledge, it requires us to do more than, you know, then then turn in some boilerplate form downloaded from Lexus or, or you know, have AI, you know, do 60% of the work of writing a brief, you just can’t do it, because you the whole the reason that lawyers are needed, the reason that good lawyers are good is that they they filtered, all that information that’s been available, whether through traditional means or through AI, through their expert human judgement, and and then tailored may ensure it’s correct, and then tailored it crafted into a coherent argument, and then tailored it into a package that is going to be persuasive and informative. 

Robert Hanna 46:08 

Yeah, and I think you’ve given a very, very strong case for, you know, humans are not going to, you know, AI is not going to be replacing lawyers anytime soon. I think he gave some really solid examples around that, but also how it can be utilised as an effective tool. But you also mentioned, of course, you know, check, check, check, check. And don’t just put something out there for that kind do that level of thorough detail. And this has been awesome. I’ve really enjoyed writing learning more about your career, your your writing your books, everything you’ve been getting up to, I want to ask one final piece of advice for next generation of lawyers, what would be your advice for those at the beginning of their legal careers, and they’re looking to specifically, you know, really improve their legal writing skills to stand out? 

Ryan McCarl 46:49 

Yeah, so at the beginning of elegant legal writing, I addressed this quite directly, ways to improve your writing over time, I think, first, that you have to adopt a growth mindset and understand that all the different ingredients of good writing, they’re not, they’re not matters of talent, they’re matters of, of skill, and technique. And so and we all can improve our writing over time, it’s like, it’s like learning an instrument, it’s not, you know, it’s, it’s okay, if you, maybe you don’t learn, like don’t think not learning how to write well, is a very good option for lawyers, because it’s 90% of our job is written advocacy, and, and explanations. So you know, but if you see that, and you and you understand that it’s valuable to be to be to improve your writing, I think you it’s the same worth understanding that as with learning an instrument, as is somebody a lifelong learner of an instrument, you can always get better no matter how good you already are. So you know, the the briefs were very proud of the filings returned. And we think that they, they put us at the top of the market, but we don’t, but we still have mistakes that are inherent in the speed of litigation. And the reality that you know, the reality that you only have a certain amount of time to spend on on prod onboard product, and the fact that you just you’re constantly growing and learning to catch those learning to improve. And I think that the way people can improve once you first you have to put yourself in the mindset of constantly learning, you have to then think about, you know, learning the techniques and that have been developed in the craft points that have been developed by reading, you know, reading a book like mine, it can also be helpful to read. There’s, there’s other books that I recommend in the book itself. There’s there’s CLAS, writing coaches and so on. Inviting feedback, hiring outside editors and coaches and hiring. You know, hiring experts to talk to your firm to elevate the firm’s practices as a whole. Taking advantage of software like Roscoe broom is brief catch or Grammarly, to, you know, to help with some of the line editing and polishing. There’s so many things you can do to to become a better writer, but it really turned it really, to me boils down fundamentally to reading a lot of good prose, and then learning, learning about craft by, you know, men. And the purpose of my book, fundamentally, was to convey what I think are the most important parts of that point, as efficiently as possible in a way that lawyers would like to read. Yeah, 

Robert Hanna 49:17 

no, absolutely. And I would encourage people to definitely check it out. And on that if people want to learn more about your career journey, or indeed your firm, or the book, elegant legal writing, where can they go to find out more feel free to shout out any websites, any social media handles will also share them in this episode for you too. 

Ryan McCarl 49:34 

Absolutely. I sell the books on Amazon? And my I also have a legal writing blog called elegant legal writing, it’s elegant, legal. and with respect to social media, I’m active on LinkedIn, encouraging you listeners to reach out and, you know, follow up, follow that or connect with me. And, and then you know, the firm is Russia. McCarl LLP and it’s Russia. And we are we’re We’re very proud of the work we do. And all the written work product is is supervised by me and reflects, you know, it reflects one way or the other. The lessons that so many people have already have found valuable and praise the book for is what we try to implement day to day in our practice. And, and, and I think as a result, the way we practice turns out to be at a very high level and give our clients the best it gives our clients the best possible chance of success. 

Robert Hanna 50:30 

Absolutely. And I love that you know, you’re really are looking after your people, your clients and everything in between. So, Ryan, thank you so so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show wishing you lots of continued success with your career but now from all of us on the league has been podcast over and out.

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