Legal Aid Writing

Legal writing in the refugee rights context is very different from what many legal advocates are familiar with in other areas of law. For one thing, subjectivity and persuasiveness take a much greater role in effective refugee rights advocacy. The legal advocate should be prepared to modify his or her existing writing style to accommodate the very specific needs of their refugee clients.

To produce effective written materials, managers must know exactly what the concerns of the decision-maker might be, and what types of arguments might be persuasive for her. In some jurisdictions, you will receive well-reasoned opinions accepting or denying your arguments, and can use these to tailor your future advocacy. However, you or your clients are most likely to receive a simple “accepted” or “denied” response to your brief. If this is the case, you need to develop strategies to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t be afraid to approach the decision-maker directly to enquire about what types of arguments she is looking for. Remember that it is in everyone’s interest for your organization to produce concise, well-argued briefs. In the Ecuador office, Asylum Access regularly submitted long, detailed appeals to the refugee office until a refugee officer told Asylum Access that they were too long for them to read. As a result of this informal discussion, the briefs produced were both shorter and more successful.

Regardless of the opportunity to approach your decision-maker or to receive constructive feedback, it is prudent to keep a detailed record of which briefs are successful and which fail. Identify the arguments that work; abandon arguments that don’t. Many U.S.-trained lawyers are obsessed with establishing a strong record for the appeal and refuse to abandon arguments that are logically sound but strategically useless. As a manager, you should be intimately familiar with the appeals process in your jurisdiction and think carefully about what needs to be established in a brief. But you should also analyze the likelihood of success at each level, and put your client’s interests ahead of other considerations. Don’t bother putting an argument on the record if you think it will lose. It will weaken your case, and there is only a slight chance that the client will be willing and able to continue appealing her case.

Training Materials

The following materials are designed to introduce legal advocates to the most effective writing approaches in this context as well as to give them some basic tips for legal writing and client testimony.

How to use these materials:

It is important for the trainer to be attuned to the specific needs of the group and to tailor these materials to suit them. You should view the training tools as a resource and not as a must-do manual. Although all the sessions have been tried and tested in many different contexts and with a variety of actors, the materials will always need some level of adaptation to suit your specific audience or context.

Trainer’s Guide: This guide is designed to help the trainer lead the lesson and discussion. It gives a slide-by-slide script that may be used as-is or adapted to suit the particular needs of the group.

Presentation: This PowerPoint presentation covers the general and most important area within the broader topic. You should feel free to modify it to include local considerations.

Summary Sheet: This Summary Sheet has been developed for use as a guide for participants to follow along with the presentation and to record the major takeaways of the lesson. Alternatively, it may be used as a quiz at the conclusion of the lesson to refresh the major points of the presentation and to facilitate a discussion of the material in greater depth. Trainers may choose to give participants a hard copy of the sheet that may be filled out manually or they may make available the electronic version which has been created as a fill-in-the-blank document. Keep in mind that the Summary Sheet was created as an accompaniment to the presentation and the corresponding notes as provided in the Trainer’s Manual. Any adjustments to the presentation must also be made to the summary sheet accordingly.

Summary Sheet Answer Key: The participants’ version of the Summary Sheet will have blanks where the Answer Key provides the answers in capital underlined words.

Writing Client Testimony Exercise: This exercise is designed to get the participants thinking about the important details that should be highlighted in a client testimony and to put to use some of the practical tips covered in the lesson. Please print and distribute a copy to each participant.

Writing Client Testimony Exercise Trainers Key: This document should be used by the trainer as a guide to leading the exercise and discussion.

Writing a Legal Brief Quiz and Answers: You can use this document to review the information about legal writing and and practise persuasive writing.