You probably learned one of the most important rules of practicing law in kindergarten. Remember when your teacher told you not to use fighting words? It was wise advice.
In legal writing, you should aim for a tempered, balanced tone. Spare the vitriol and accusations. Wisdom and reason speak for themselves and need not hide behind fighting words. Let your pitch suggest your integrity and show the court that you are reasonable and worth dealing with. An understated tone conveys your honesty and candor. A shrill tone suggests that you should not be trusted.
And keeping a balanced tone should not mean that you sacrifice passion and zeal. For example, in his dissent from the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing corporate spending in campaigns, Justice Stevens finished with a biting comment that nailed his thoughts in history. Showing that his ninety years have not diminished his convictions, Justice Stevens concluded: “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Com’n, 130 S. Ct. 876, 979 (2010) (Justice Stevens, dissenting) (also available at http://www.supremecourt.gov). Words are an advocate’s sharpest tool so let your convictions inspire your language.
So avoid the fighting words and play nice!