Thursday, August 02, 2007

Austin Lawyer magazine: Changes in legal writing

Changes in Legal Writing
By Wayne Schiess (Originally appeared in Austin Lawyer, July 2007)

I stay current on legal writing the way you stay current on your practice area. I keep up on the trends in legal writing. Yes, trends. Are you surprised legal writing changes and evolves? It does, and here are three areas that are changing right now.

1. Legal citation is changing.
The 18th edition of The Bluebook is out--are you still using the edition you got in law school? Well things have changed in the world of citation. The new Bluebook is different from earlier editions: for one thing it's more reader-friendly. That's because it has competition from a new citation manual. It is called the ALWD Citation Manual. Visit .

Another trend is vendor-neutral or medium-neutral citation. This means using citations that do not rely on commercial products. For example, citations to the South Western Reporter necessarily rely on proprietary, Thomson West products. Medium-neutral citations rely on government-produced or noncommercial sources. The use of the Internet to publish legal documents is making medium-neutral citations possible and practical. The American Association of Law Libraries has produced a guide for medium-neutral citation called the AALL Universal Citation Guide. Visit and click on “Product and Publications.”

2. Legal drafting is changing.
The way transactions are documented is the subject of more research and scholarly writing than ever before; we're seeing an explosion of books and articles on legal drafting. If you draft transactional documents, check out Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law, which has run a series of articles that present annotated deal documents. Get Kenneth Adams's book: A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, the most comprehensive and authoritative guide to correct drafting language. Consult Negotiating and Drafting Contract Boilerplate, edited by Tina Stark. It's an exhaustive treatise on standard provisions with preferred language.

Many law schools now offer a course on transactional drafting, and those courses use new, sophisticated textbooks from Thomas Haggard, George Kuney, and Tina Stark. So fewer young lawyers will face that daunting first contract-drafting assignment with the fearful thought that “I've never even seen a contract, let alone drafted one.”

In these courses and in these textbooks, students learn the drawbacks of relying too heavily on outdated, unquestioned forms that have been around since 1907--which brings me to the third change in legal writing.

3. The readability of legal writing is changing.
More and more lawyers accept that legal text need not be much different from other professional writing. More and more clients and government agencies insist that legal writing be understandable to nonlawyers. And fewer and fewer lawyers, clients, and judges accept gratuitous jargon, hyperformality, and unnecessary density in legal writing.

What about you? Do you, as much as possible, write in a natural style that is readable and clear? I want to show you how. More to come.

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