1. Writing guru Constance Hale shares a blog about slow writers and slow writing. I’m a slow writer (if you count multiple revisions), and the slow writing angle is interesting, although it’s probably not something busy lawyers and others would like to consider. But consider the benefits and intentions before casting the ideas aside.
2. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has just published a new book about writing,The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (2014). I haven’t read it yet, but we get a bit of a preview in this shorter piece on “Why Academics Stink at Writing“, which I fear rivals a lot of legal writing for the title of most boring and numbing. Read this critique of academic writing and apply it to your briefs, and you’ll become more persuasive. If nothing else, a judge will be more likely to read what you’ve written.
2. Legal Writing Prof blog points to the latest in the ABA Journal from legal writing guru Bryan Garner about words that we lawyers should excise from our vocabularies. While I’m tempted to keep an occasional “whereas”, in fact, Garner is certainly right. I work to expunge “shall” in any legal document. I drafted a lot of ordinances and contracts without it, and the monstrosity “and/or” is just that: a monstrosity. (Remember: “Or includes and“. Yes, well worth a couple of minutes of reading time.
3. Legal Writing Prof blog also does a brief review of a new book by William Domnarski that addresses (in part) legal writing. Not having read the original pieces discussed, I hesitate to comment too much. However, I agree with Legal Writing Prof that good writing is good writing, and what lawyers do is add legal terminology (different that mere jargon or “word gravel”) to their prose. Also, Bryan Garner (see above) is a very useful resource. Finally, writing and thinking go hand in hand.
1. The (New) Legal Writer comments on the new edition of the Redbook (3d. Ed.). I’ve never used it, but guru Bryan Garner does, and the (New) Legal Writer is enthusiastic about its value; i.e., he’s buying.
2. A new book that I haven’t read but that looks worth exploring sometime: Sketches on Legal Style by Mark Cooney. Let me know if you read it first!
3. Legal Writing Skills blog cites an article on writing purposeful sentences. It includes examples and citation to the original article upon which it’s based. You can’t get enough of this because long, confusing sentences are endemic to legal writing. Don’t miss an opportunity to inoculate yourself.
So why I’m I posting a blog on Stephen King? (Yes, the Stephen King.) Lazy? I’ve already written it for one of my other blogs? I can’t say that’s not a factor, but I have a better response. My premise:
Any source that improves writing benefits lawyers
That’s my justification. That simple. Of course, if you read my review (included–with my permission–in full below), you’ll learn that I found the book entertaining as well as sage. I enjoy King’s voice as well as his advice. If nothing else, if you apply my two favorite tips from the end of the review, you’ve received value for your effort.
One more thing to remember: King has sold around a gazillion books because he tells intriguing stories. We lawyers can’t fabricate our stories, but we can tell those client stories well or poorly, depending on our writing and presenting skills. Taking advise from a master, not just in the mechanics of writing, or in the area of fiction (assuming you not planning a Grisham), but also in the art of telling a story, will prove worthwhile. Enjoy.
I owe Stephen King a big, fat apology. For many years, I thought him a horror hack, someone who only writes creepy stuff for the more gullible among us. Of course, doubts crept in over the years. Several movies based on his work, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile (which I saw only about a year and half ago), and Stand by Me were all movies with compelling stories. Some, like The Green Mile, incorporate a fantastic element, but all tell compelling stories about interesting people even without a fantastic element. I was intrigued when I saw that King had written 11.22.63, and I saw that it received good reviews. As you may have read, I gave it a good review, too. So, Stephen King, I’m sorry for typecasting you, which reflects poorly on me and not at all on you. (If you, reader, retain some prejudice against the fantastic in literature, then you won’t count Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, or say, Italo Calvino or Garcia Marquez, among your favorite authors. Well, so be it if you insist. Just know that don’t need to go the Fantasy/SF section of the bookstore to find the fantastic.)
So how is this nonfiction book of King’s? Excellent. It’s divided into three parts. The first part is a memoir of his youth and his beginnings as a writer. As someone who, like King, grew up in America in the 50’s and 60’s, I share many of his experiences and cultural references. But King had a tougher start than I did. He was raised by a single mother (dad hit to road when Stephen was about age three), and they never had much money. But Stephen and his brother were bright and inventive. Stephen got into comic books and Tom Swift (“Junior” by Victor Appleton II, like me, or the older ones? He doesn’t say). Like many a writer, illness kept him at home one year (requiring him to repeat a grade) so he read to pass the time. Later Stephen got into horror books and movies. I’m certain he would have watched the ones that I liked to watch on late Saturday nights, like Rodan, the giant Pteranodon that comes out of the mountain and blows down miniature Japanese cities. And I’m sure he’d know the one about the giant Gila monster in the American southwest created by atomic testing. The giant lizard creeps up on teenagers parked in the desert making out, when, just as they getting intimate, the monster strikes. (“That’ll teach ’em!”) Yes, I understand much of the background of Stephen’s cultural upbringing. Now I appreciate some of the sources of his inspiration.
The second section of the book deals with “The Toolbox”: vocabulary, grammar, adverbs (he hates ‘em), and so on. The third part deals with the practicalities of writing and publishing fiction. While not quite as personal or entertaining as the first part, King never loses his sense of humor (which I quite like) or his sense of perspective. King has sold about a gazillion books, but it hasn’t seemed to have gone to his head. He did develop a drug and alcohol addiction, but he made it to the other side. He married his college sweetheart, and they raised a family and now have grandkids. King knows of his good fortune and shares his wisdom freely.
If you have any inclination to read a book about writing that’s also entertaining and personal—the not Strunk and White or F.L. Lucas type of book—this is a superb choice. Educational and edifying with some great tips that most any writer can use: cut the adverbs and cut 10% of your initial draft are my two favorite take-aways.
This post, the conclusion of a Top Ten countdown from the Lady Legal Writer, culminates with the correct #1: be clear in your briefs. Write clear sentences; write clear paragraphs, write clear headings, and be very clear about what you want. If someone takes just one thought from this blog, I recommend that you concentrate on the fact that judges are human, just like you and me. Judges suffer from too many cases to decide, too many briefs to read, and too little energy to complete their tasks as they would like to. So what should you as an advocate do? Make your judge’s life–or at least your little speck of it–as easy as possible. When arguing to a judge, either orally or in writing, make your argument as clear and succinct as possible. Do the contrary only if you prefer that your judge not understand you argument.
This whole series–Commandments 10 through to 1–are worthwhile. Earthshaking, no; but unless you never need reference to the fundamentals, the series bears reading in full. (Also, in this last post, she provides an example of some really purple prose. I’m favor more vivid legal writing, but this stuff could merit a Bulwer-Lytton prize! )
Okay, with apologies to Admiral Dewey (“Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead”), I couldn’t resist the caption. The point, set out by my favorite legal writing guru, Bryan Garner, is that citations out to be relocated to the bottom of the page because they make reading the text so much more difficult.
With word processing, such a move is easy and without any major downside. If, at time of reading, you want to check the citation, it will be there (and if in an electronic document, with an appropriate hot-link to boot). But when reading for the gist of the argument, the use of footnotes for citations would make the reading and comprehension a great deal easier. Don’t we want to make our lives, including the lives of our judges (seriously), easier? Of course. Garner reports some courts have already adopted this better practice. More of them should do so.
Below is a link to a law review article. Normally, I’m not out to punish readers, so you may ask why I have included a law review article. Fair enough. I have done so because it’s a tongue-in-cheek article written by 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. Its topic is straight forward: how to lose an appeal. Kozinski focuses on the two tools available in an appeal: the brief and (if you get it) oral argument. Kozinski even points out that the ability to lose an appeal allowed LBJ to win an election and for Abe Fortas, the author of the losing brief, to gain a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Any guesses about who appointed Fortas? Anyway, the article is a bit dated (1992), but only because it’s from before the era of word count limitations made possible by word processing software. Otherwise, I think that the advice is timeless. Enjoy.
“The Persuasive Life” is a new blog that intends to address issues of persuasion, advocacy, lawyers, and the law. It reflects my interests, both personal and professional. Each individual life exists in a sea of relationships, and the attendant persuasion—understood in the broadest terms— the we exercise defines the quality of each life. From this very global, even metaphysical, perspective, I intend to range down into the particulars of the law in which I’ve practiced for over 34 years. I hope to cover all of the in-between as well. I intend this blog to benefit anyone who cares to read it, lawyer or not. It should benefit anyone because I believe that the quality of our lives arises from our ability to relate, to communicate, to persuade, and to be persuadedby, others.
The content of the blog will include both my writing as well as other sources that I find pertinent to these very broad topics. For those pieces that I import from elsewhere, such as from other blogs, I intend to write an introductory paragraph explaining why I think the information is useful. Indeed, I will be digging back to some of my older book reviews and blog posts to obtain material for this blog.
Since leaving the active practice of law about 14 months ago, I’ve had the time and the occasion to think about lawyering and legal advocacy. I was fortunate that in October 2012 Mind Merchants LPO of Jaipur India and I discovered each other. Consequently, I became involved in www.thelegaltaxi.com, a flat fee, pay-per-use legal research site. From the design of the website to the training of the staff to the production of actual research memos, I played an active role. I especially benefited from the opportunity to work with young Indian lawyers and train them in the ways of American lawyers. This gave me a lot of reason to think about legal writing, legal research, and persuasion in general. Indeed, my brief stint as a legal writing teacher for them (which I continue as a consultant and quality control manager for The Legal Taxi), spurred me to review and improve my own legal writing, teaching, and communication abilities.
For lawyers, I wish I could tell you I won every case and prevailed in every appeal. I didn’t. I can also tell you that now over a year of away from the active practice, during bouts of insomnia or jet lag, I don’t ponder the cases I won. I keep retrying and re-arguing the ones I lost. While this is futile in the obvious sense, there is some value in it. Such occasions prompt me to consider how I could’ve presented a better case and gained a favorable ruling. I tried not to take cases that I didn’t think my clients and I should and could win. (I consider representation a joint venture between lawyer and client.) In those cases when we weren’t successful, I believe I can benefit from contemplating what we could have done differently. I hope that through this blog and through my new venture to offer my legal writing and consulting services to other lawyers, I can bring some benefit to my fellow lawyers and other advocates that I have gained through my school of hard knocks and reflection.
I’m publishing this blog as a part of my work as a freelance lawyer for legal drafting and case preparation. I think of it as my personal CLE course, for which I can only receive credit from you, the reader. I hope that you share my enthusiasm.
I welcome your comments and suggestions for the blog. I read a lot, and my wife has chided me about sharing what I learn. My blogging career to date (here and here) has been an effort to respond to that challenge, as well as my Twitter account. This new blog, I hope, will further that project.
Without further do, then, let us explore and create the persuasive life.