Friday, November 26, 2010

Drafting a Complaint: The Intro Paragraph

I generally put a preliminary statement in the first few paragraphs of every complaint. This preliminary statement is not long, but contains a few short, punchy, sound-bites.  That way, when anyone looks at it, they can tell in a few seconds what the case is about.

The Preliminary Statement is a brief overview.  Paint with broad strokes, and don't try to cram in every fact.  The thing to be careful with, however, is not limiting yourself.  Be sure to phrase things broadly and qualify facts with words such as "among other things," "including," "such as," or "for example."

A few of my cases have made national news. Without giving any comment, the reporters had a great quote right from the first page of the complaint.  This can be extremely helpful in high-publicity cases, since as a general rule attorneys should keep their media comments to a minimum.  Having done some freelance reporting and media relations work, I can tell you that reporters - like any other professional writers - appreciate a well-turned phrase.  Sadly, that can be a rarity among practicing attorneys.

More important than providing information for reporters, you want to give the court and the other side a clear sense of what the case is about.

The complaint is the first basis the defendant, their attorney, or their insurer has for assessing the value of the case.  Similarly, the first thing that happens in any trial is that the judge is given copies of the "marked" pleadings, which is a copy of the complaint and answer with notes in the margin as to whether each defendants admits or denies the individual allegations.

A great complaint gives a good first impression; a poor complaint gives a bad first impression.  It is the first salvo in a litigation, and should suggest the quality and competance that can be expected from the plaintiff.

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