Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fear as a factor in nominalizations

An excellent post from a commenter acknowledges fear as a force in legal writing:
I think much of the problem (to the extent it is one) with legal writing is that it is based upon fear.

Young lawyers fear being wrong. They fear error as though to err is fatal (maybe fatal to your career, but not life-threatening). To limit the chance that they are wrong, young lawyers turn to qualifiers and equivocations. An outgrowth of writing in this way is the difficulty with writing in a strong and direct manner. It is very hard to use powerful action verbs when every sentence contains multiple escape clauses. Lawyers seem to believe, especially in litigation, that they can always salvage the argument or position, so long as there is a way to change their position with mushy language.

How often do lawyers write junk like, "Having evaluated your contentions and considered the applicable authority, it is evident that your client's position is unsustainable," when they could just say, "Your client's interpretation is wrong"? Fear.

The really good writers in the legal field have embraced their fear and just state their position with the confidence that, win or lose, clarity and certainty are better than weakness.
I agree that fear plays a role, but I believe it is not the only factor.

As I'm fond of saying, there is a law-review article here.

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