Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Student essay: artisans of the law

On Legal Writing

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Each of us can recall confronting this question as a child; I certainly was no exception. Although many of my peers answered this profound inquiry with deliberate responses such as “an astronaut” or “a flower,” my considerations were a bit more complicated. And so my story begins . . .

I'm six years old. I'm reading my latest piece to my grandfather about a man who sells balloons in exchange for bananas, a tale of victory and woe. As I read the final (gripping) line, he tells me it's the best story ever written. And I know he's right: it is.

After all, I was a committed writer. And not of mere assembly instructions or soup labels, but a Writer of stories. I had recently completed a series of short stories including such popular titles as “Bobby's Messy Room” and “Pink Dinosaur Parade!” to the more obscure “The Day It Rained Pennies.”

I endeavored with a considerable success: displays on classroom bulletin boards, readings at family gatherings; sticker rewards peppered my Trapper Keeper-mostly smiley faces offering eulogistic commentary-all of which I enjoyed…for a time. But as my career advanced, I developed concerns that I was earning the reputation of a one-dimensional author of fantasy. Refusing to be pigeonholed, I resolved to prove my versatility.

Seemingly on cue, I was introduced to a new world, a world that would revolutionize my craft: it was the world of nonfiction. The floodgates opened. As I learned evidence-and-conclusion reasoning, my writing became informative and convincing rather than merely entertaining. The pink dinosaurs simply had to move their parade elsewhere; there was no longer room for such tomfoolery. After all, I was well into my preteens.

From essays to research papers to journalism, I honed my ability to process and analyze information and write succinct, accurate works accordingly. Characteristic of my earlier work, these efforts quickly garnered favorable attention. I consistently received grades of completion, new assignments, and, at the urging of select relatives, I continued my family readings. It seemed, however, that the more mature and lengthier content discouraged the rapt interest of a few former enthusiasts-Cindy, Great Uncle Al, and the like-who preferred earlier titles like “Go, Go, Go!” and “Clouds.”

I forged ahead nonetheless.

However, I grew weary. I began to realize that in embracing the gravity of adulthood to diversify my portfolio, I had abandoned the creativity of youth. Could I ever hope to combine the seemingly distant worlds of argument and imagination? I was deeply troubled. Then one night, bathed by the light of my laptop, an epiphany . . .

Legal writing! Motions and responses as varied as the colors of the rainbow! Petitions and briefs that test the limits of reality! Within this genre occurs the wondrous collision of fact and free thought, tradition and invention. This was the common ground atop which fantasy and footnotes could dance.

And so like clay pots and clay bowls spun and crafted from a single slab of clay, works of legal writing are spun and crafted from a single slab of life: the law, where the fire is reason, the sculpting hands, imagination; and the little designs carved in the sides, citations.

We are the artisans of the law. We are legal writers.

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