Legal Writing Tip: Avoid Hyperbole – It’s Worse Than the Plague

A large portion of my practice involves drafting summary judgment and appellate briefs.  I provide those legal writing services to attorneys throughout the United States.

Judge Raymond Kethledge from the Sixth Circuit demonstrates why hyperbole has no place in an appellate brief, or any other court filing. Here’s how Judge Kethledge began the majority opinion:

There are good reasons not to call an opponent’s argument ‘ridiculous,’ which is what State Farm calls Barbara Bennett’s principal argument here.

The reasons include civility; the near-certainty that overstatement will only push the reader away (especially when, as here, the hyperbole begins on page one of the brief); and that, even where the record supports an extreme modifier, the better practice is usually to lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusions.

But here, the biggest reason is more simple: the argument that State Farm derides as ridiculous is instead correct.

As a rule, you should never label your opponent’s argument as ridiculous/absurd/harebrained, even when the argument is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever read. It’s lazy writing, and like sarcasm, hyperbole provides zero benefit in advancing your argument before the court.  Most times, it only weakens the rest of your brief. Use “flawed”, use “misguided”, use anything else.

Call me today and let’s talk about how I can assist in drafting your next trial or appellate brief.

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