Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Improve your legal writing

Introduction: Legal writing in your continuing legal education.

I'll say it directly: include more legal-writing training in your continuing legal education. Never rest on a plateau of adequacy; always strive to improve. Now you might think it's awfully self-interested of me to recommend legal-writing courses; after all, I make money from teaching them. But all kidding aside, I know you'll never regret seeking to improve your writing.

For example, you keep up on the substantive law in your area of practice, right? Of course you do. It would be career-damaging if you didn't. So you should also keep up on topics in legal writing. Now you might ask, does anything in legal writing really change? You bet it does.

Here are three short examples of things that are changing in legal writing.

1. The accessibility of legal writing is changing.

More and more lawyers are starting to believe that legal documents need not be so different from other professional writing. More and more clients and government agencies are insisting that legal writing be understandable to nonlawyers. And fewer and fewer lawyers, clients, and judges are willing to accept gratuitous jargon, hyper-formality, and unnecessary density.

2. Legal-writing education is changing.

Law schools are teaching legal writing differently from the way they have taught it in the past. Schools are investing more money and teaching credits in legal-writing courses. Schools are hiring better teachers and paying them more. Those teachers are publishing scholarly articles about writing. And schools are offering more advanced writing courses.

These changes will affect many things:
  1. recent graduates who will come to work for you should have better general writing skills (though their writing will probably never be as good as you think it should be, right?)
  2. recent graduates should have better specialized writing skills in areas like persuasive writing and drafting (because of the advanced courses)
  3. the scholarly output of legal-writing teachers is creating a large body of excellent training materials that all lawyers ought to use to improve their legal-writing skills.
On that note, there has been an explosion of books and articles about legal writing; there are so many I can't keep up with them all. But you now have a wide choice of excellent sources as you put more legal writing into your continuing legal education. [I'll be recommending some of the best books and articles on this website.]

3. Legal citation is changing.

Besides the Bluebook coming out with a new and different edition every four or five years, and besides the Internet changing the way many legal sources are cited, there is a new citation manual that competes with the Bluebook. It is called the ALWD Citation Manual, and it is gaining ground so quickly that it may achieve parity with the Bluebook soon.

These are broad changes in legal writing, but smaller changes occur all the time. Keep up with them; you'll be a better writer and a better lawyer if you do. [This website will help.] In fact, some have even suggested that legal writing (and legal research) should be required parts of every lawyer's continuing legal education, just as ethics is. After all, legal writing is the one skill that crosses your entire practice.

Wayne Schiess, Better Legal Writing: 15 Topics for Advanced Legal Writers 8-9 (Wm. S. Hein & Co. 2005).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My book: Writing for the Legal Audience

My first book, published in 2003, is--

Writing for the Legal Audience

Click on it to get the book from

It's probably the most modern and readable book on legal writing today. But don't take my word for it:
  • "The writing tips in this book work. . . . It is easy to read, easy to use, and--especially considering the type of book it is--surprisingly enjoyable." Susan Wawrose, Book Department: Writing for the Legal Audience by Wayne Schiess Trial 67 (Jan. 2004).

  • "Wayne Schiess is one of the foremost legal writing experts out there, and his book is a "must have" for those who are serious about improving their legal writing." reviewer.

  • "[F]illed with sound, progressive advice about writing for many different legal audiences. Schiess is squarely on the side of plain English--bless him. He will show you the way to better legal writing." Professor Joseph Kimble.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

You can keep improving

"[A]ttorneys need to consult the same dictionaries and stylebooks that other professional writers and editors use." Ronald L. Goldfarb & James C. Raymond, Clear Understandings: A Guide to Legal Writing 55–56 (West 1982).

For most lawyers, law-school legal-writing training was just adequate. For better legal writing, you’ll have to train yourself throughout your career. You can do that by--
  • including legal writing as a regular part of your continuing legal education,
  • reading and consulting the best sources on legal writing, and
  • promoting better legal writing at your law office and in your practice.
This website will help.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Myths of persuasion

Two myths of persuasive legal writing:

1. A legal argument is aimed at an opponent.
  • Dead wrong. In legal persuasion, you argue primarily "for" the decision-maker, not "against" the other side. Your goal is to move the arbiter to the conclusion you favor by the shortest, easiest, and most legally sound route, not to make your opponent weep and crawl abjectly away.
2. You persuade by an act of will, by forcing your argument on your readers so strongly that they have no choice but to accept it.
  • Equally wrong. You might persuade your kid brother that way, but not judges or other lawyers. You persuade them only if, finally, they think they have reached your conclusion of their own free will, because you have led them to a result they would have found without you.

--Stephen V. Armstrong & Timothy P. Terrell, Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer's Guide to Effective Writing and Editing 274 (Practising L. Inst. 2003).