Interview with Paul Samakow, Founder of The Legal Merry Go Round Podcast, and Longtime Attorney

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BEV: Hello and welcome Paul Samakow (Sam-a-ko) to Legal Writing Launch™. This is Bev Meyers, the Founder, and I am privileged today to have Paul Samakow who has developed The Legal Merry Go Round Podcast. . . .

PAUL: . . . Thank you for having me.

The Legal Merry Go Round Podcast

BEV: . . . I know that you’re a longtime lawyer, and we want to talk about that but we really want to talk about . . . your legal podcast, The Legal Writing Merry Go Round . . . . Tell us what it is and why you started it.

PAUL: I have always been involved in communication and education to the public. . . . So, I gave a great deal of thought and researched legal podcasts and found that there’s about 170 of them. There might be more now, but all of them . . . [were] lawyer-to-lawyer based and that didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t want to do a lawyer-to-lawyer podcast teaching lawyers . . .

I wanted to do something that was a consumer-based educational informational resource for the average person and the above-average person. My law practice, at The Law Offices of Paul A. Samakow, P.C., is personal injury cases, auto accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall down cases, dog bite cases, that sort of thing. . . . So I decided to do a [free] three-time-a-week podcast with a different topic on Mondays than from Wednesdays than from Fridays. I’ve made my Monday podcast Marital Mondays. The [podcast legal issues are] domestic relations, family law, talking about all measures of things that relate in that world—divorce, child support, alimony, custody, any number of things, that people might go to a family law attorney for. . . . Most recently, the podcast that I have this week . . . the topic was Parental Rights in Same-Sex Marriages . . . on Wednesday shows I call Wrongdoer Wednesdays; it’s about criminal things, and the Friday shows I call Fender Bender Fridays, which is about [personal] injury [cases].  [It is really a legal guide to these issues in a podcast].

How Critical Brevity and Conciseness Are to Legal Writing

BEV: . . .  I want to turn now to what’s probably primarily of interest to my followers, which is the use of legal writing in your career. You’ve had primarily personal injury and other related cases. Tell me about your motion practice or trial briefs and appellate briefs.

PAUL: . . . I can just share that legal writing is about brevity and conciseness . . . get to the point.  I had long learned how to adopt that style. New lawyers want to go on and on . . . with the facts and cite 73 cases in support. You don’t need to do that. A young lawyer’s 25-page motion or brief, probably at worst-case scenario, with an experienced lawyer should be three or four pages.

BEV: I completely agree with you there.

PAUL: A judge has 150 cases and he or she does not want to be bored and read and read. . . .

It’s the same with reading briefs and motions.

BEV: Would you agree then what’s very important in a motion for a judge would be the introduction to state the heart of the issue and why you [should] win?

PAUL: Oh absolutely, without question, Bev. This is not a novel where the reader is going to get to the answer at the end. Tell the judge right now, ’This is a case about x. . . . The compelling reason for you to rule in our favor is x. . . . Three, four sentences.

BEV: Do you agree that it’s . . . important to use what we’ve learned as IRAC, I coined it CRAC, because nobody writes that way? Nobody writes in every paragraph, ‘The issue here is whether or not…’ What I call CRAC is, let’s say you have a negligence case and you would say, ‘The court should find that as a matter of law in a summary judgment motion that Joe Schmo is liable because he ran the red light and struck the plaintiff causing damages.’ So you’ve got that mix of law and facts [in the paragraph’s topic sentence]: [next] state your rule succinctly as possible. Throw in your analysis with your facts and conclude if necessary; I call these Power-Packed Paragraphs™. What do you think about that structure?

PAUL: That’s it in a nutshell. That’s exactly right. You tell them, and again this is a writer’s mantra, you tell them [what you’re going to tell them,] . . . tell them, and tell them what you told them. And in a legal brief and legal motion, the very last part tell them what you told them, in my mind’s eye shouldn’t be any more than two, maybe three sentences. . . .

BEV: And along that vein, what do you think of the importance of having strong grammar and writing in plain English, so that you’re not distracting to a judge?

PAUL: There again, this is one of my pet peeves because I’ve been a writer . . . for a legal audience and for a judge and for panels, and I’ve written legal columns for the everyday person, and the rule in my head has always been, ‘Keep it simple.’ The use of legal jargon is inappropriate unless it’s absolutely necessary. Short sentences, descriptive sentences when they need to be, but again not too long. You want to always be able to share your thinking in the most direct way possible with everyday words. In other words, there’s numerous examples. I can’t think of a time where I’ve ever used the word “wherefore.”

BEV: Right. “Hereinafter”

PAUL: . . . Who talks like that?

BEV: Write in an efficient, plain-English manner. So, let me ask you this: do you recommend to law students that they take a legal writing course that will help them learn legal writing skills?

The Importance of Taking a Good Legal Writing Course Online

PAUL: I think that’s a very important thing to do. Lawyers communicate. And there’s only two ways to do it . . . The first is verbal and the second is [in] writing. And while we may be able to communicate verbally, there is an absolute skill to doing it on paper.

BEV: . . . I think the public assumes that lawyers are these articulate magicians that go into court every day and provide [a] brilliant closing argument, but the reality of many lawyers’ practices is that it’s a writing practice where they’re arguing motions, perhaps trial briefs which are really critical to how the case will be laid out and then all the hijinks and the magic comes later.

PAUL: You know, Bev, I’ve tried hundreds and hundreds of cases and I’d like to say I’m a good, maybe [an] above-average attorney, but I can’t think of one time that I’ve ever [not] had a closing argument [outlined]. . . . If our tools of the trade are our words then we need to be educated and trained and practice; you know, it’s like a muscle, you can go to the gym and lift weights but if you stop, you’re not going to lift those same weights anymore. You have to constantly be thinking about your communication style and your communication product which means that you have to keep up the writing and make sure, ‘Is what I’m thinking what I’m conveying? Is what I’m trying to say detailed on this piece of paper?’

The Need for Law Students to Take a Separate Legal Writing Course Online

BEV: And how important is it, do you think, for law students to obtain legal writing skills while they’re in law school?

PAUL: I think that’s the perfect place. You get out of law school and then what do you do? Who’s your mentor? Does your mentor have a practice that involves writing, maybe, maybe not. In everything you do as a lawyer for the most part, most practice areas involve writing and not just here and there and now and again. So while you’re in school . . .  get the training while you’re there. . . .

BEV: . . . How about additional training such as a legal writing course, an online legal writing course? If there’s a good one, do you think that that would be helpful to law students?

PAUL: I can’t endorse that highly enough. The more you can put onto your plate, the better you’re going to be. It’s just that simple. I know you have a legal writing course and that’s sensational; that’s amazing for you to provide that to law students; [it] is a gift from God.

BEV: Thank you.

PAUL: It is. If they were aware of it and could do it and didn’t do it, shame on them.

The Nuts and Bolts of Legal Writing Launch™

BEV: I will tell you in our course[, Legal Writing Launch™], we start off with the Power-Packed Paragraph™ that I was talking to you about: IRAC/CRAC. And then we also give them a strong foundation in grammar. We focus on Core Grammar for Lawyers, which is a platform and a lot of . . . grammar. . . . And then we build. We start doing legal memos and then we use the introduction, discussion conclusion [format].  [Then], we use a different format: question presented, brief answer and on. And then we do advice letters. We also do demand letters and then we do motions, and we finish it up with an appellate brief. So that’s what we [complete] in my course.

PAUL: It’s a great class. I wish I had that in second or third-year [of] law school.

The Importance of Lawyers Taking a Legal Writing Course Online

BEV: And I will mention, too, . . . you talked about new lawyers and let’s say you have individuals or lawyers out there that didn’t have a mentor, weren’t fortunate enough to work at a law firm with somebody that actually cared about them and put the time into it. Would [an online legal writing course for lawyers] such as mine be helpful to new lawyers?

PAUL: Absolutely. I can’t see why if you’re not [an] ‘A’ writer, if you’re not communicating the way you need to and there’s something out there available for you to improve. And, not to take the spotlight off of you and what you’re offering, you know let’s go global: if something’s available and it’s affordable and you have time or even if you don’t have all the time, but if that’s available and you can improve yourself, why wouldn’t you? So, then I say make the time . . . I mean, how many jobs are lost because you don’t know how to write a resume even?

BEV: I will say, too, that one of the blogs that I’ve written addresses business emails for the law firm. Something as simple as . . . you’re writing a paragraph, provide a topic sentence. If you’re writing several paragraphs, let’s say three paragraphs, provide a short introduction, guide the reader. It’s all about guiding the reader.

PAUL: It is. Yeah.

The Need for Those Who Have Failed the Bar to Take a Legal Writing Course

BEV: Let me just mention a couple of other things. How about an online legal writing course for students who have failed the bar? [In a blog that I wrote, I noted that] many researchers have actually proven that people do fail the bar because of their poor writing skills and they don’t even know it. They don’t know that’s what it is.

PAUL: Well, I don’t doubt it. How many essays are bar examiners reading? While you may have 60% of the answer correct, or 70 and you get some points for that information, if you’re not communicating it accurately, you’re not getting any points.

BEV: Exactly.

PAUL: Jumbled thinking and jumbled communication in a written form are just so upsetting to the reader. I mean, how many times does somebody send you something and your response is, ‘What? Huh?’

BEV: You’re not the only one who’s said this. [In an interview with Jim Humes, a California Court of Appeal Justice] . . . he talks about the way some individuals provide briefs. . . if it’s not well-written then it’s a distraction, and the whole point is to just win, right? So, you want to be effective, you don’t want to distract [the court].

Non-Lawyers’ Fascination with All Things Legal, Including Legal Writing

PAUL: Absolutely . . .  The fascination with law for the non-lawyers of our country is extraordinary. Just look at the number of people that watch these court tv shows and the law shows at night. There’s a series of these day-time court television shows that are uploaded to Youtube. And if you go to Youtube, you can see how many views there are and every one of these has 800,000, 900,000, a million. People crave this stuff and in my opinion, a legal writing course [for non-lawyers] that was offered to the public—forget the lawyers and the law students—a legal writing course that was offered to the public . . . could be phenomenal because I think there are just so many people out there who are interested, not just in the subjects, but they’re interested in the style.

BEV: Right. How lawyers write. . . .

PAUL: . . . You teach clarity, you teach grammar, in a manner of speaking, above the high school grammar class. So what you teach I think has an extraordinary appeal. I applaud you.

Paralegals Should Improve Their Legal Writing Skills to Advance in Their Careers

BEV: Thank you. Let me ask you just one more question about paralegals. Do you work with paralegals?

PAUL: . . . It’s either 15 or 16. I don’t have anybody [now] with a paralegal degree. . . .

BEV: How important is good legal writing for paralegals?

PAUL: It’s critical because I rely on their work. If I need a synopsis of a case and they’re going to give me 12 sentences, as an example, of how the automobile collision occurred, that doesn’t help me. I want it short and sweet and I want the facts in there in a manner where I can quickly scan it, summarize it, review it. Like you said, ‘Here’s the topic, here’s the facts, here’s the conclusion.’ And I’ve trained them all to do that and they all do it very well.

BEV: That’s great. Do you find, too, that the better your paralegals write, the more responsibility you’re willing to give them?

PAUL: That’s so funny, you have no idea what you just asked me. About a month ago, I brought in one of my team, a paralegal, a young lady who I’d hired about 5 months before that. And she hit the ground running because she kind of knew most of what I’m doing. But her writing style was so good that I said, ‘Look, I’m going to give this extra task to you. I wasn’t planning on doing that probably for months, I wanted to see more of your product. But I’m already convinced.’ And I mean, the smile on her face from the east to the west coast. So yeah, absolutely.

BEV: And don’t you find, too, with paralegals, if their writing skills are good and they have more and more responsibility, then they’re probably going to get better pay, ultimately.

PAUL: Ultimately.

Paul Samakow’s Law Practice and The Legal Merry Go Round

BEV: . . . Paul, tell us what your different websites are.

PAUL: I have a website for my law practice: www.samakowlaw.com. I’m very proud of this because I invested a lot of myself in making sure that it looked and felt and said what I wanted [it] to . . . I created a website for my podcast, which is www.thelegalmerrygoround.com. Where again, once you’re on the homepage, you can scroll down and get free reports and then there are probably over a hundred reports, all of which I’ve written in the subject matters: . . . criminal, . . . domestic relations [and] family law, and personal injury. . . .

BEV: What are your reports on? They’re from your podcast?

PAUL: No, they have the subject matter in general: criminal, domestic relations and personal injury. [For example,] [o]ne of the reports is about DWI, drunk driving. Another is about what I look for in hiring an attorney. So, they’re really very informational, subjects that I felt like people would really want.

BEV: Where can the readers of [this] blog find your podcast?

PAUL: It’s on virtually every format where they can listen to podcasts. It’s on my website: thelegalmerrygoround.com. It’s on Stitcher, it’s on Spotify, it’s on iHeartmedia. Pretty much any place you listen to podcasts, you can find mine by typing in The Legal Merry Go Round.

BEV: Is there anything else you want to add to our interview today?

PAUL: No, I’m really thrilled to [be here].  Let me just share this: one of the other things I wanted to do with my podcast was become a resource for people and in that connection. I’ve been an attorney for over four decades now, I have a lot of people that I know, lawyers all over the country. So I’m offering to give people a referral in any one of those three areas: criminal, divorce/domestic relations/family law or injury cases. . . . There’s no referral fee [for the consumer] . . . I know how to find out whether they’re good or not and when it comes through me, you’re going to get someone who is good or very good. . . .

BEV: Thank you so much, Paul Samakow, for being with us today. It was very helpful to hear your thoughts on legal writing in your profession and the importance of legal writing courses [online] as well as [about] The Legal Merry Go Round, and the value that you’re adding to the legal community and particularly [to] consumers.

PAUL: It was a pleasure. . . .

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