Law-review writing: an example
Is this good writing?
- For some, globalization promises peace and prosperity on an unprecedented scale; for others, it portends injustice, inequality, the demise of community and self-government.
Wayne Schiess's legal-writing blog. Home is here: Legalwriting.net
Is this good writing?
Too many legal texts intended for the general public are dense, dry, and unnecessarily complex. They contain typical legal drafting: legal jargon, legal terms of art, long sentences, and complicated syntax. To the extent they are unreadable or difficult to understand, the drafters--and their clients--are vulnerable to assertions that the text should not apply because the intended audience could not understand it. What's more, these texts often contain mistakes of English or of substantive law, both of which are harder to spot and fix if the text is typical legal drafting. And ultimately, the texts fail of their essential purpose: to communicate binding legal content to the nonlegal audience.
A reader asks--
How nonlegal readers read is sometimes not how legal readers do. Here's an example that shows that even though a lawyer would know that a list of tabulated items is disjunctive because there is an or before the last item, that is not obvious to nonlegal readers.
A reader reports--
Partners receiving assignments tend to critique associate writing less on its effectiveness or accuracy and more on its similarity to the partner's own habits, however bad.
Uses for the memo
Predictive, objective analysis
At the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting in Washington D.C. this coming January, 2007, Scribes will sponsor a program: Writing Jury Instructions in Plain English
One of my students interned at a court last summer and spent a lot of time reading and checking on briefs. She then wrote this advice. I couldn't have said these better, so here they are:
This essay is by Ryan Gorsche, a law student at the UT Law School:
What is a memo?
A commenter writes--
He that busily hunteth after affected words and followeth the strong scent of great swelling phrases is many times at a dead loss of the matter itself.
To make the text easier to read and skim, you may decide to break up the formal parts of a memo with numbering and headings. For example, if your memo addresses two issues, you should separate and number the issues. The brief answer or conclusion should then have the same numbering:
The traditional parts of a memo
In a recent essay in the Texas Bar Journal, Baylor Law School's Dean, Brad Toben, committed a writing error twice. Can you spot it? (The first text is a sentence fragment that appeared as a heading, so that's not the error, and that's why there's no period.)
Nearly all legal memos are titled "Memorandum." Beneath the title, most memos contain a simple caption that usually has four parts, like this:
You should make sure your memo has page numbers. I like the page number centered at the bottom of the page, but you have other options and your employer may prefer something else. It is traditional, but not crucial, to omit the page number from page one.
I have received these comments about my criticism of Latin in legal writing:
The 8 best things you can do to improve your legal-writing style.
[Lawyers] are perfectly capable of verbally communicating the essence of a document to the client sitting across the desk but feel that they are undertaking a formalistic task requiring different skills when they attempt to put the same thing in writing.
The default margin settings on your word processor are probably one-inch margins at the top and bottom and one-inch margins on the left and right. These settings are fine for the traditional legal memo, and you can use them unless those you work for tell you to change them.