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Drafting legal pleadings - an overview

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Sat, Apr 28, 2012 at 16:13 IST (last updated: Sun, Apr 29, 2012 @ 07:33 IST)

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A legal pleading, for those who are not aware, is a document that is filed before a Court of Law in which a party to a litigation sets out their case or replies to the other side's case. A legal pleading forms the basis of most civil litigation. Some pleadings are in the form of affidavits while others are not, but in general, pleadings are the backbone of most lawsuits. Pleadings are addressed to the Court and never to the other party.

So what is the best way to draft a pleading? In my view, there are some important points that need consideration while drafting a pleading. So, without further ado, here they are.

State the facts of the case, not the law pertaining to it
The general rule of pleadings, observed in most common law jurisdictions is that pleadings should contain relevant statements of facts and material particulars. Points of law may be mentioned very briefly if absolutely necessary, but they should be kept to a minimum. Pleadings should almost never contain legal arguments. Unfortunately quite a few lawyers tend to become excessively verbose when it comes to points of law and feel the need to insert legal arguments in between the facts of the case. This reduces readability and makes it harder to grasp the facts.
Stay relevant and on the topic
Focus is important, as is relevancy to the issues between the contesting parties which is sought to be brought to the notice of the Court. Sometimes, in explaining one fact, it is easy to go into too much background history which may not be necessary to the case. On the other hand, a little background information is always a good thing - particularly in order to explain the nature of the dispute.
Numbered paragraphs are better
Legal pleadings are often used to complement the legal arguments that are made in front of the Judge and often, the Judge can follow the pleadings far more easily if each paragraph is numbered properly. A good practice is not to state more than one important fact in a single paragraph.
When replying to a pleading, always refer to the point in dispute
In reply pleadings, it is very important to answer the opposite party's case point-by-point and denying or admitting the contentions made in the other. This is also one reason why numbered paragraphs are a good idea. It is far easier to reply to each averment by referring to the paragraph number. It also makes it easier for the Judge to understand and follow the case.
Avoid unprofessional language
Pleadings are meant to be dignified and unemotional. Using too much slang is to be avoided. It is also better to thoroughly check for spelling and grammar mistakes before finalizing the proof. Again, name calling and repeated legal threats in a pleading make little sense and is best avoided. Keep the language simple, but professional.
Coherency in narration
A pleading is a narration of facts that form the basis of a case. Pleadings should be coherent and explain the dispute in a manner that makes sense and is understandable. Unlike in literature, stylistic narrative techniques are to be avoided at all costs.
Avoid evidentiary notes
Almost as important as avoiding legal arguments. Evidence is separate from alleged facts. Any pleading should not refer to the evidence, but should stick to the facts alone. Evidence is brought out in the trial of a case, by the examination and cross-examination of witnesses and the production of supporting documents. Of course, pleadings can refer or point to any documents that are relied upon to support facts briefly, but pleadings cannot be a substitute for the actual evidence. Depending on the requirements of law, pleadings may have to contain a list of annexed supporting documents as well.

Apart from the above, original civil pleadings should obviously conform to certain legal requirements such as

Legal pleadings are very important documents and need very careful preparation and scrutiny before they are submitted before a Court of Law. Most likely, a pleading once accepted by a Court, will not be allowed to be amended so easily and the procedures for amendment will add to the costs of litigation. The facts that form the basis of a case are vital in the final outcome and while legal arguments do complement the facts, most lawsuits stand on the strength of their pleadings.

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