Friday, November 11, 2016


For Week Six of 'Drafting Against The Dark Arts' class, I spoke about signposting - the very thing that keeps you reading this article till the very end (instead of, say, staring at cat pictures).

(Don't miss lessons from Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four, and Week Five!)

And no CATS allowed!

* * *

Humans are lazy beings. We have the attention span of a mosquito. We want everything quick and easy – information, answers and even lessons.

Most guilty of all, are people like you and me. The millennials. The social media addicts. The people who go crazy over pineapple pens.

But we are not alone. Bosses are guilty too. They have no time to read through email chains, and thick documents; they want bullet points and executive summaries. Judges are just as bad. They set page limits on written submissions, and there are even proposals to have them delivered through Power Point presentations.

And hence the importance of signposting. Let’s talk about three forms: headings, hooks and hashtags.


It goes without saying that big chunks of words should be broken down into small bites. So that the reader can digest your message, and don’t doze off midway.

But using headers requires some degree of skill:
  • The when: Use the right amount of headings, not too many, not too few. The index of headings should have a logical flow, easy for people to follow your train of thought. For example, for submissions, the flow goes something like: introduction, facts, issues, submissions, and conclusion. If you must – especially when your piece is long and complex – use sub-headings.
  • The how: How you name the headings matter too. It has to be simple, yet effective. Consider the following versions: background facts, material facts, undisputed facts. The last one is most effective. It immediately lights a bulb in the readers’ mind: “Ah, this is how the actual story goes!” Legal headings can be lengthy, so it takes a good lawyer to choose the right words and frame the right sentence.

Neat and sweet


Every piece of message, long or short, needs a powerful message. Just one. Not two, not three. Just one.

The hook is the main idea you’re selling. It has to sound awesome, and memorable.

Long epic stories have hooks: “Winter is coming.”

Politicians also use hooks:  “I have a dream.”

Likewise, every legal brief should have a hook, a case theory, summed up in a one-liner. I once did a case that dragged on for 10+ days of trial, cumulating in a 148-page written submission. There are plenty of gems of good drafting in there, but the crown jewel has to be the executive summary which begins with this epic line: “At the heart of this case is that of debtor turned victim, and a creditor and third party purchasers turned villains.”

We lost the case. But the line really stuck in the judge’s mind. She even quoted it in her judgment. That’s how powerful hooks can be.

I'm hooked


And finally, let’s talk about hashtags, because hashtags are cool.

No, really, hashtags are perfect examples of signposting done well. It sorts through the mess of social media. It helps users search for stuff. It separates the wannabes from the influencers.

Most hashtags are plain, boring and cliché: #selfie, #ootd, #foodporn, #yolo

But some hashtags really hit the spot, and have the power to change the world: #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveWins

Who knows? Maybe one day, we’ll be using hashtags in our legal documents: #AdjournAgain #LAWS

The End

Imagine you’re taking your readers on a ride. To get them through the way smoothly till the end, without dozing off and getting lost, you need to put up proper sign-posts.

And right at the end, it’s nice to have a signpost too.

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