Interested in training for your team? Click here to learn more

Advanced Drafting of Complaints and Answers: How to Go Beyond Required Content and Reach Multiple Audiences

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

This program is included with the Strafford CLE Pass. Click for more information.
This program is included with the Strafford All-Access Pass. Click for more information.

Conducted on Thursday, December 5, 2019

Recorded event now available

or call 1-800-926-7926

This CLE course will provide an advanced course in drafting persuasive and impactful opening pleadings. Trial counsel will often seek to meet Rule 8 or state law equivalent of a "short and plain statement" (even under Twombly and Iqbal) without going further. Although this approach can survive motions to dismiss, it undoubtedly results in counsel missing a critical opportunity to frame the case to opposing parties, insurers, opposing counsel, mediators, judges, juries, and the press. The panel will discuss the advantages of going beyond the minimum.


Complaints and answers (including counterclaims) define the litigation playing field early in the case because they are viewed and weighed by many audiences with different goals. When counsel drafts pleadings merely sufficient to meet minimal legal pleading standards, counsel is communicating to only one person--the trial judge. By employing this overly simplistic approach, practitioners miss their best opportunity to frame the dispute without being caught up in length restrictions and bogged down by dry legal authorities and citations.

A complaint is the only document in a case that does not refer to any other material in the case. Lawyers all too often rely on forms and rules to draft complaints that echo case law and procedural rules. Such pleadings fail to grasp the attention of those who read them; especially defendants and their insurers who have the power to dispose of litigation with significant early settlements.

Similarly, many answers are generic recitations of "admit, admit, deny, deny," and a boilerplate listing of defenses. A plaintiff may react to a barebones answer by thinking that the defense has nothing to say beyond mere denials. Upon comparing a comprehensive, well-drafted complaint that tells a story against a rote answer that contains mere denials, the jury will likely fail to grasp the full impact of the defense’s side.

Listen as this panel of drafting and persuasion experts identifies how to go beyond the typical. The panel will provide advanced insight into the different audiences for these pleadings, and the varying ways these pleadings can be drafted to reach these audiences.



  1. Basic review of sources of law
    1. The required content of pleadings
    2. Restrictions on the content of pleadings
  2. Identification of audiences and needs
    1. Client
    2. Opposing client
    3. Opposing counsel
    4. Insurers/indemnitors
    5. Mediator
    6. Judge
    7. Jury
    8. Press
  3. Complaint and counterclaim minimums and cures
    1. Including introductory matter
    2. Expanding plain allegations of jurisdiction and venue
    3. Defining terms to shape case vocabulary
    4. Attachments and inclusion by reference
    5. Using the "foregoing allegations" instead of details
    6. Damages "to be proven"
  4. Additional minimums and cures for answers
    1. Expanding on plain denials
    2. Meaningful affirmative defenses
  5. Potential dangers
    1. Motions to strike
    2. Admissions


The panel will review these and other essential matters:

  • What is sacrificed when pleadings only meet minimum standards?
  • Who are the multiple audiences for pleadings and what is each member looking for when reading the pleadings?
  • What choices can be made to go beyond minimums?
  • How can purported limits on the pleadings impact drafting choices?


Salsburg, Payal
Payal Salsburg

Senior Counsel
Laredo & Smith

Ms. Salsburg focuses her practice in the areas of business litigation, corporate advice and counsel, and white collar...  |  Read More

Smallets, Sonya
Sonya Smallets

Minnis & Smallets

Ms. Smallets has been representing employees who have been discriminated against, harassed, or wrongfully terminated by...  |  Read More

Access Anytime, Anywhere

Strafford will process CLE credit for one person on each recording. All formats include course handouts.

To find out which recorded format will provide the best CLE option, select your state:

CLE On-Demand Video