Monday, October 31, 2005

I recommend The Redbook

The best style manual on legal writing:

Click here to get The Redbook.

It's comprehensive, consistent, and correct. Every lawyer should have access to this book. Every lawyer who is committed to professional-level legal writing should own it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

My second book

My second book, published in 2005, is--

Click here to get Better Legal Writing

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A legal-usage dictionary I like

The legal-usage source:

Click here to get A Dictionary Of Modern Legal Usage

If you have a question about a legal word or about legal writing, look it up here. You'll find the answer, and you're also likely to find a lively and intelligent discussion on the point. But the best thing about this book is that it's correct. So use it for back-up when you need to be right. Every lawyer should have it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

You must actually study legal drafting

Myth: expertise in law qualifies you as a legal drafter.

Wrong. If it were true, the UCC and the Internal Revenue Code would be well drafted.

In other words, you may know a tremendous amount about corporate transactions and still be mediocre or even poor at drafting corporate-transaction documents. The two things are different.

In reality, legal drafting is an independent area of expertise in which you succeed not only through practice, but after study and research. What's more, legal drafting is a legitimate field of expertise, worthy of independent study and instruction. It supports a growing body of scholarship and a number of new and valuable texts, and its study is vital to the practice of law.

How much do you really know about legal drafting? Here's a short quiz:
  1. Name a text on legal drafting.

  2. What is the proper legal-drafting definition of shall?

  3. What is the difference between writing "such activities" and "those activities"?

  4. Why do drafters write "Four Hundred and no 100s dollars ($400.00)" and do they need to double-up that way?

  5. Explain the drafting problem in this sentence: "The rule applies to associations and corporations with offices in Texas."
Consider booking a seminar to train yourself and others on these and more fine points of legal drafting.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Promoting better legal writing at your law office

If you are committed to better legal writing, you'll want to spread it around and get others involved. Besides, you may be the "writing guru" at your office, and you'd like a break from editing so many other people's documents or answering their questions. Naturally, you could sponsor a seminar. This is shameless self-promotion of course, but you could hire me to come give a seminar on better legal writing. Here are some other things you can do.

Hire an in-house editor or writing specialist. Some law offices have them, and they're glad they do. This expert in professional writing can teach general classes to everyone so that writing improves across the board. This expert can train supervisors to spot the large-scale weaknesses and train junior lawyers to edit themselves. (That's how it should be, right? The most experienced and highest paid should not be line-editing others' work; instead, junior lawyers should be trained to do that themselves. Then senior lawyers can focus on the bigger picture: strategy, overall approach, and staffing of writing projects.) This writing expert will also promote a culture of high expectations for writing in your office.

Start a writing group. Select or invite a group of lawyers to meet over lunch once a week to discuss good writing. Have everyone take a turn offering a document for the group to read in advance and then discuss at the meeting. You get two benefits: the writing IQ of everyone in the group is bound to increase, and you will learn that accepting constructive feedback is a great way to improve your writing.

Create a house style manual or, better yet, adopt one. I recommend The Redbook, by Garner, but you have other choices. Having a reliable and consistent source for answering writing questions will raise the writing IQ of everyone who consults it, and it will help settle many small writing skirmishes that can flare up at the office.

Consider using a writing test to screen job applicants. It may seem harsh, but it works; as reported in the National Law Journal in 1999, one Chicago law firm swears by it.[1] Legal-writing expert Joseph Kimble has recommend the practice in a recent article,[2] and Bryan Garner has created and published a test that would serve any law office well as a screen for an applicant’s writing ability.[3]

1. Ritchenya Shepherd, Firm Exam Tests Writing Skills, Natl. L. J. A16 (Feb. 15, 1999).
2. Joseph Kimble, The Best Test of a New Lawyer’s Writing, 80 Mich. B.J. 62 (July 2001).
3. Bryan A. Garner, The Legal-Writing Skills Test, 5 Scribes J. Leg. Writing 107 (1994-1995).