Writing lessons from Rushing McCarl LLP’s Stanley Tumbler class action complaint
See Ryan McCarl’s writing tips in action by reading Rushing McCarl LLP’s putative class action complaint against the creators of Stanley Tumblers.
Last week, Rushing McCarl LLP became the first law firm to file a putative class action lawsuit against the manufacturer of Stanley Tumbler cups for deceptive advertising practices. The lawsuit alleges that Stanley’s manufacturer — Pacific Market International, LLC — systematically targeted safety-conscious consumers, especially women of childbearing age, while concealing its deliberate use of lead in its drinking cups. Rushing McCarl’s complaint has been covered in Law360, Reuters, US News, Bloomberg News, and other national outlets.
The Brown v. Pacific Market Intentional, LLC complaint, prepared by a team led by Elegant Legal Writing author Ryan McCarl and his partner John Rushing, showed some of McCarl’s writing tips in action in the days before his book’s February 6 publication date. McCarl’s book has joined works by Ross Guberman and Bryan Garner on Amazon’s legal-writing bestseller list.
This post highlights five persuasive writing tips that attorneys should consider trying in their next litigation filing.
Five writing tips from Rushing McCarl’s Stanley Tumbler class-action complaint
First, weave salient quotations into your arguments and narratives. Although attorneys tend to overuse quotations (especially from judicial opinions), thoughtfully curated quotations from fact witnesses and experts can dramatize a filing and give the court a sense of the litigation’s stakes outside the courthouse.
Instead of pasting in long block quotations and allowing them to sit there unedited, weave quoted language into your sentences and use footnotes to cite your sources:
Several experts have voiced their opinions that the lead content in Stanley Tumblers is concerning. “[I]f that bottom seal comes off, all bets are off. . . . Lead is so toxic you just can’t take chances with it,” one research director stated. A “broken seal may not always be obvious,” and a child who fidgets with that broken bottle faces “a very possible and likely transference of microparticulate lead via normal hand-to-mouth behavior in young children.”1
Second, use screenshots and images to help a judge see your best evidence and draw their own conclusions. For example, Rushing McCarl’s complaint repeatedly highlighted PMI’s advertisements showing mothers and young children interacting with each other while carrying and drinking from the Stanley Tumblers (all of which presumably included undisclosed lead). An image showing PMI advertising to mothers and children is much more likely to stick in a judge’s mind than a characterization or description of the practice.
Third, consider taking the show-don’t-tell strategy further by incorporating multimedia evidence into your filings. McCarl and his firm pioneered the use of QR codes for this purpose in legal briefs, and the strategy is mentioned in Elegant Legal Writing. Although the practice is still rare, and Rushing McCarl LLP may yet be the only firm doing it, QR codes are regularly used in everyday life and provide an ideal way to easily share videos and other multimedia resources within a legal filing. Since filing a notice of lodging and dropping off a USB stick with the court clerk is a nuisance, attorneys rarely use videos in filings. QR codes can change that.
Fourth, use white space and break your document into chunks so your writing is easier to digest and more pleasing to the eye. Rushing McCarl liberally uses lists (numbered, bulleted, and inline) in filings to help readers perceive at a glance how parallel facts relate to each other, as in this excerpt:
All named Plaintiffs share these characteristics:
They bought Stanley cups that contained lead but provided no warnings or disclosures about lead.
They were unaware that Stanley cups were made with lead.
They reasonably believed that Stanley cups were safe, durable, and suitable for household and outdoor use.
They would not have bought the cups if PMI had disclosed that they contained lead.
Using plenty of white space breaks up dense text, making litigation briefs more inviting and fast-paced. This helps motivate judges to continue reading the brief, making it more likely that they will closely attend to your argument.
Fifth, use em-dashes to set off and emphasize parenthetical phrases. Writers tend to underuse punctuation marks other than commas or periods, so practice using em-dashes, parentheses, colons, and semicolons.
Em-dashes are especially useful for helping readers absorb information by breaking up the sentence into easily parsed chunks, as in this example:
PMI marketed its products as safe for adults and children despite knowing they contained a toxic material that could expose consumers (including children) to lead if the cups were damaged. It thus knowingly misled Californians by failing to disclose a fact that reasonable consumers — especially those in PMI’s safety-conscious target demographics — would want to know before buying a drinking cup, especially considering that similar products are available that do not use lead or pose any lead-related risks.
This post elaborates on how to use em-dashes effectively.
Ryan McCarl is a founding partner of Rushing McCarl LLP, author of Elegant Legal Writing (U. Cal. Press 2024), and adjunct professor at Loyola Law School. For more writing tips, subscribe to the Elegant Legal Writing newsletter and follow Ryan on LinkedIn. McCarl’s book is available on Amazon.
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