Effective Legal Writing- The Memorable Tag Line

The most difficult part of effective brief writing can be figuring out the best way to deliver the core idea in an effective message. So much of what lawyers do when communicating effectively involves coming up with memorable tag lines that stick in the reader’s subconscious. The same can be said for oral presentations before appellate courts. The highest of all compliments is when you see an appellate opinion using your punchy power line. These power lines are deceptively simple, but there is an effective method to be followed to help you formulate potent power lines in your briefs and at argument. In Chapter 14, of Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, 21 Powerful Secretes of History’s Greatest Speakers, Three Rivers press (2002), author James C. Humes explains the secret of how to construct the “Power Line.”

Winston Churchill, master wordsmith, was the master of the memorable quote. The memorable quote, the quote that sticks in your head, is the definition of the “power line.” It is potent. It must be used, and it must be mastered. Churchill came up with the acronym “CREAM” to describe the tools of the effective power line:

“C” stands for Contrast

Use antinomy for memorable effect.

“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.” Robert Frost

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” Calvin Coolidge

“Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.” Calvin Coolidge

“R” stands for Rhyme

Use rhyme for memorable effect.

“The first wealth is health” Ralph Waldo Emmerson

“E” stands for Echo

Repeat key words and phrases for memorable effect.

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy

My thing is this; if I’m sick enough to think it, then I’m sick enough to say it.” Eminem

“A” stands for Alliteration

Repeat consonant sounds for memorable effect.

“On vacations: We hit the sunny beaches where we occupy ourselves keeping the sun off our skin, the saltwater off our bodies, and the sand out of our belongings.” Erma Bombeck

Years ago I was judging a moot court for first year law students. One of the student advocates

Came up with the following tag line: “the law trumps trends.” It was a masterful use of alliteration. It stuck in your head, and it was a complete distillation of his argument before the mock panel. Needless to say, this student received the highest evaluations for his presentation.

“M” stands for Metaphor

Use comparisons to the physical world for memorable effect.

“Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.” Charles


“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.” Charles Dickens (simile works well too!)

Finally, see how many of the five techniques you can combine to achieve memorable effect as some of the above examples do. But don’t force, or overdue it. A great place to find inspiration for key words and ideas is the trial transcript. It is a rich field from which to mine words and phrases. These words and phrases can serve as an anchor for each of the five CREAM techniques.

If you go on line and look for famous quotes from famous people, you will quickly notice the use of all five means of achieving powerful punch lines that encapsulate your central theme, the “big idea” of your brief and argument. These techniques can also used in constructing powerful sentences and paragraphs. Take an opportunity to read briefs submitted to various federal circuit courts of appeal. These techniques, the CREAM methods routinely used in the best briefs. If you go to the EEOC web page available on line at www1.eeoc.gov>about EEOC>Litigation . Search the appellate and amicus briefs and you will see great examples of the CREAM method. Use the CREAM method in your own writing and oral presentations and you will be amazed at how well your writing and speaking improve. Share this technique with your high school age children, and watch how the grades improve in writing assignments.

Good luck!

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