Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Student essay: writing plainly is what I do

Deciding to attend law school only three years ago, I was concerned that I would be ill-prepared for the demands of law school and a legal career. In particular, I feared legal writing. Throughout college, I avoided history, political science, or any other class where an essay exam would seal my fate. While I envy those who can conjure up imaginative tales, I was usually satisfied with my three-line e-mails and multiple-choice exams. But when I started law school, I found that I wasn't far behind in "Plain English" writing. My computer science background failed to impress my Constitutional Law professor, but my Legal Research and Writing professor liked my short memos.

How so? Well, I edit work e-mails for my wife, and she sometimes claims that I remove the personality. It is true; I will never win a Pulitzer Prize for "high literary quality and originality." But I can achieve a high Flesch Reading Ease score. I love using the same word for an object throughout a memo and not having to look for multiple synonyms. I love proof reading a ten page memo while others labor over a twenty-page one. It would be even better if I could combine my memo's short answer and conclusion sections.

I often check a book out of the library only to find, after finishing half the book, that the entire contents could have been contained in a pamphlet. I have read a case or two in law school, but Legalines and High Courts have served me equally well. I buy used textbooks. Not only do I save money, but I benefit from all of the pre-highlighting. Throw in an “I” for “issues” and an “H” for “holding” in the margins and half of the work has been done for me.

Perhaps I owe some of my “success” to a smaller vocabulary. It tends to favor one- or two-syllable words. Having read countless books to my two-year-old son, I can see the benefit of "See Spot run." It certainly gets the point across. Richard Lederer, who attended Harvard Law School but is better known for his "way with words," advocates using short words. He writes, “You don't have to be a great author, statesman, or philosopher to tap the energy and eloquence of small words.” A well known essay of his, titled "The Case for Small Words," is written entirely with monosyllabic words.

Becoming a lawyer seemed within my grasp when I discovered that not all lawyers are litigators. In a similar manner, becoming a good legal writer seemed within my grasp when I found out that I wouldn't have to master the art of "Legalese." Although I have much to learn in legal writing, I may have a head start in one aspect of legal writing; "simplifying" my legal writing to the level of my clients will, simply, be writing at my own level.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home