Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guest blogger--Cheryl Stephens

Cheryl Stephens, of Building Rapport, the plain language blog, is a leader in the field of plain language communication, and provides training and workshops to clients all over North America. She is making a guest appearance today promoting her new book, Plain Language Legal Writing.

Wayne, a few days ago you wrote about being a professional writer. I'd suggest you are not just a professional writer, but a writing expert. Same for the others who write and blog about legal writing.

I want to make that point because I believe every lawyer should see himself or herself as a professional writer and problem solver.

I am sure that your students do not see themselves as preparing for careers as professional writers -- but they are. Lawyers in practice areas that are heavily paper-based are writing (or signing off on) more pages in a day that a novelist hones in a week.

The Legal Writing Prof Blog reported on a presentation to the Legal Writing Institute about the skills training gap between law school education and real-world practice needs.

One presenter, Mr. Mike Cavanaugh, despaired of new associates who lack competent writing skills and those who also lack in basic English skills. Another, Professor Kathleen Dillon Narko, spoke of meeting the needs of the client receiving the memo or client letter. Ms. Kris Butler spoke about clients' expectations of lawyers: to get to the conclusion right away, and to edit a document for conciseness.

Young lawyers ought to think about the physical product they deliver to clients -- the letters and other paperwork. This stuff is kept, circulated, and even shown to other lawyers who form their opinions on the quality of it.

Recognizing themselves as professionals, writers, and "published" authors of legal paperwork, young lawyers and law students might take their writing skills a little more seriously.

Then, they will see that plain language sets a standard for their writing. We ask that they use good grammar, standard English, no jargon, and well-formed sentences expressing well-formed thoughts.

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