Tips to Manufacture Outrage in Legal Writing


To be a successful big firm lawyer, you need to understand the art of manufactured outrage. Most successful solo attorneys have developed the skill of manufacturing outrage over years of being the little guy and overlooked for major litigation. As a big firm attorney, though, you’ll need to manufacture outrage easily and on the spot. Here are some tips to help.

Avoid trite phrasing

Lawyers are notorius for using the same words and phrases over and over, such as “without merit,” “ibid.,” or “douchebag.” Stop. If you want to make an impression, consider your audience and what they’ve likely read in the last week. Recent but not actual studies demonstrate that, within just one year of being admitted to practice, most lawyers no longer register certain legalistic and overused words. For example, you may write the following sentence:

Plaintiff’s rehashed argument about his alleged injuries is without merit and, more importantly, fails to allege a plausible compensable injury. Unable to plead any injury, Plaintiff then attempts to circumvent this requirement by complaining about defendant’s reasonable actions and somehow alleging that such actions entitle him to damages.

Most lawyers will register only this:

hashbrowns at the circus. yum.

Which works, I guess, except the case isn’t about hashbrowns and it won’t convince a judge of two things: 1) that you are right and; 2) that something really terribly awful happened to your client. Rewrite the sentence with more artful turns of phrases and some manufactured outrage.

Use key outrage words

Most masters of legal writing keep a short list of KO (or “key outrage”) words at their desk or programed into their keyboard shortcuts. Why? Because they work. And they make you feel good and important. Some example KO words include: sinister; communist; sycophantic; affront; reckless; apocalyptic; shaken to the core; and atrocity. If you are having trouble developing your own list of KO words, spend a day reading political blogs. That’ll do it.

Putting it all together

Putting this all together, and going back to our original sentence, it can be rewritten with sufficient manufactured outrage, as follows:

It’s as if plaintiff, in his complaint, has kicked defendant in the nuts, only to laugh about it. The court should not tolerate such atrocious behavior. It should dismiss plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety.

See? Concise and to the point, with sufficient manufactured outrage. Moreover, a trained lawyer who reads this will register “toasted nuts. ouch.” A far better and more precise reaction than the previous one.

So far, I’ve covered only manufactured outrage in writing. To extend manufactured outrage to the courtroom or to depositions, I’ll have advice later on the gestures, phrasing, and other actions you can take when you need to show your outrage effectively in person. Stay tuned.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43564909@N03/5486501489/)

C. Hank Peters ("Chank") is an attorney whose background includes a rural, small-town, solo practice in Minnesota. He uses his practice experience from the late 1970s to advise attorneys who want to establish a lean and client-focused legal practice. He is one of a few legal marketing attorneys online and remains the inspiration for the website Big Legal Brain.

10 Comments

  1. Ellen

    June 23, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I do NOT like it when there is any degree of fonyness with lawyers. I learned alot in law school and am now working to improve as an attorney ADMITTED to the BAR in NY State.

    What good does it do to be fony? NONE I say. Fooey on fonies!

  2. Law Student

    June 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I assume, of course, that correct spelling is not necessary to pass the New York Bar Exam? As a phony law student, I may just be manufacturing outrage with a personal attack on a technical error.

  3. C. Hank Peters

    June 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Manufactured outrage over typos or misspellings are excellent examples that you should definitely use in your legal writing. Judicial law clerks love that stuff and snicker about it like the best of us.

  4. Michelle Beth

    June 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    “It’s as if plaintiff, in his complaint, has kicked defendant in the nuts, only to laugh about it. The court should not tolerate such atrocious behavior. It should dismiss plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety.”
    It can be rewritten with warranted manufactured outrage, as follows:
    The plaintiff, in his complaint, has kicked the defendant in the nuts and laughed about it. Come the fuck on, this Court is to show the plaintiff it is not some pussy to tolerate such atrocious behavior. It should throw the plaintiff’s complaint out in its entirety. FRCP 12(b)(6). Get the fuck out of here.

  5. Guano Dubango II

    June 23, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    If we wanted to interest lawyers, we would submit a scene a lawyer can relate to. Attend please: imagine a mid 20’s associate who came on hard to a paralegal or a secetary or a younger lawyer like Ellen who is not long for the firm so you decide you may as well make a pass, and are rebuffed. Now its time for some outrage!

    From the lawyer! “Well no, Ellen it didn’t seem strange, since you’ve been coming on to me for weeks now.
    “I….I wasn’t coming on to you!”
    “Oh please! If you’re not intrested, you shouldn’t slut yourself up like that with those low cut blouses.”

    That type of feigned outrage is very useful later too, if HR gets involved. rather than acting like a pussy and meekly admitting that yes you did fondle Ellen as she was saying “fooey,” you blame it on her.

    A few encounters like that and no one will believe Ellen.

    • Guano Dubango

      June 25, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      I am the real Guano Dubango, and I have no interest in fondling Ellen. My Aunt Ooona would not approve of her since she is a poor speller.

  6. Strenuous Objector

    June 24, 2011 at 7:20 am

    I think the manufactured outrage should go more like this: “The plaintiff, in their argument, have been spreading lies and discontent through this court. They have claimed undo compensation for damages that never happened and their atrocious behavior has lead to the invalidation of any argument of theirs as well as converting this court into a sideshow attraction. The court should dismiss any subversive claims and reprimand the plaintiff for attempting to corrupt the legal process. Also they should cover the defendant’s attorney’s fees in excess.”

  7. Guano Dubango

    June 24, 2011 at 7:33 am

    I am ONLY interested in finding a suitable law bride, not in making public scenes.

    There are more than a few women who have been very focused on me because of my law degree and sexual prowess, but they are not legally trained. They seek only to become Mrs. Dubango but do not have the mental agility to survive many years with my family in my home country. My Aunt Ooona is very demanding. That is why I spare these women the chance to go up against her as part of the mating ritual.

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