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The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well

The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well: Second Edition

Tom Goldstein
Jethro K. Lieberman
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 2
Pages: 287
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp3cs
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  • Book Info
    The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well
    Book Description:

    This eminently practical volume demystifies legal writing, outlines the causes and consequences of bad writing, and prescribes straightforward, easy-to-apply remedies that will make your writing readable. Complete with usage notes that address lawyers' most common errors, this well-organized book is both an invaluable tool for practicing lawyers and a sensible grounding for law students. This much-revised second edition contains a set of editing exercises (and a suggested revision key with explanations) to test your skill. This book is a definitive guide to becoming a better writer—and a better lawyer.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92907-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. PART I WHY LAWYERS WRITE POORLY

    • 1 DOES BAD WRITING REALLY MATTER?
      (pp. 3-11)

      Most lawyers write poorly.

      That’s not just our lament. Leading lawyers across the country agree. They think modern legal writing is flabby, prolix, obscure, opaque, ungrammatical, dull, boring, redundant, disorganized, gray, dense, unimaginative, impersonal, foggy, infirm, indistinct, stilted, arcane, confused, heavy-handed, jargon- and cliché-ridden, ponderous, weaseling, overblown, pseudointellectual, hyperbolic, misleading, incivil, labored, bloodless, vacuous, evasive, pretentious, convoluted, rambling, incoherent, choked, archaic, orotund, and fuzzy.

      Many critics amplified: Lawyers don’t know basic grammar and syntax. They can’t say anything simply. They have no judgment and don’t know what to include or what to leave out. They do not know how to...

    • 2 DON’T MAKE IT LIKE IT WAS
      (pp. 12-34)

      Around the country, a select group of court watchers indulges an arcane hobby: collecting lawyers’ dreck. A West Coast journalist sent us this specimen:

      That on November 10, 1981, at 1:00 p.m. while plaintiff was a business invitee and customer, present at that certain real property, a Ralph’s Market, located at 1725 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, California, and that at said time and place, the defendants, and each of them, carelessly and negligently owned and operated and maintained and controlled the said real property and particularly a shopping cart thereof, and the said cart was at said time and place...

  5. PART II THE PROCESS OF WRITING

    • 3 TEN STEPS TO WRITING
      (pp. 37-51)

      “What is writing for?” we ask a roomful of lawyers.

      “Communication,” someone pipes up.

      “Anything else?” we continue.

      Blank stares. Determined to get an answer, we change our question.

      “Quick now, how much is two plus two?”

      Singled out by name, the lawyer hesitates, weighing the simplicity of the question against the odious possibility of a complex trick. Finally, the answer: “Four.”

      “Good.”

      Singling out another lawyer, we ask: “How much is ten times five?” “Fifty,” hurled back in the next breath.

      “Very well, then,” pointing this time to a lawyer who has sat silent all afternoon, “how much is...

    • 4 OF DAWDLERS AND SCRAWLERS, PACERS, AND PLUNGERS: GETTING STARTED AND OVERCOMING BLOCKS
      (pp. 52-58)

      Jay Topkis, who has represented Spiro Agnew, large corporations, and death row inmates, is a tenacious courtroom advocate and an elegant craftsman admired for his spare prose, apt analogies, and colorful images. This is how Topkis, who has practiced in New York at Paul,Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison since 1950, starts writing: “I wait, or, as Red Smith once said, I sit down and think until beads of blood form on my forehead. Mostly I procrastinate.”

      Writing is not easy. Getting started can be especially wrenching. But procrastination rarely is the wisest course. It only makes writing harder.

      “Plunge in,” advises...

    • 5 THE MECHANICS OF GETTING IT DOWN: FROM QUILL PENS TO COMPUTERS
      (pp. 59-63)

      The first machine for writing, the typewriter, came on the market in the United States in the 1870s; the second machine, the personal computer, arrived a century later. Each provoked hallelujahs in some quarters and criticism in others. The comparison is instructive, for each sparked a revolution not merely in the mechanics of composition but in the content of the documents produced.

      Businessmen were initially suspicious of typewriters, but they were soon won over by the endorsements of such luminaries as Mark Twain, the first author to send his publisher a typewritten manuscript(Tom Sawyer), and Lloyd George, a prominent...

    • 6 LESSONS FROM A WRITING AUDIT
      (pp. 64-70)

      In 1988 we conducted an experiment at a fast-growing, medium-sized corporate litigation firm on the West Coast. One of the senior partners invited us to audit the firm’s writing process, to interview a cross-section of the work force (partners, associates, paralegals, secretaries, and support staff) and assess how well the firm was meeting its goal of producing high-quality documents in an efficient manner. In the course of updating this chapter, we visited another office of the same firm in 2000. The office had newer equipment, but little else had changed. We believe that our original analysis and proposals were sound—...

    • 7 LAWYERS AS PUBLISHERS: WORDS ARE THEIR PRODUCT
      (pp. 71-76)

      Add up all the pages of the documents—memoranda, opinion letters, motions, briefs, settlement agreements, contracts, resolutions, trusts, wills—produced in a typical week by even a small law office, and the total will easily be in the thousands. Then apply a rule of thumb: 400 double-spaced pages equals one 275-page book or one issue of theWall Street Journal. The math is indisputable: Every week a small law office publishes (that is, produces for distribution to outside readers) more material than a major book house or a national newspaper.

      That’s why we believe that law offices should take a...

  6. PART III MANAGING YOUR PROSE

    • 8 WRITING THE LEAD
      (pp. 79-87)

      Kenneth A. Plevan, a partner in the New York headquarters of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, faced an emergency. He had a day to fend off a temporary restraining order against his client, a toy importer. The plaintiff had gone to federal court in Manhattan, charging trademark infringement. Only Plevan’s brief could convince the judge to allow the toy importer to sell its inventory.

      As he tells the story, Plevan began drafting in the routine way, rehearsing in a paragraph or two the procedural posture of the case. But as he started to write, he realized that he would surely...

    • 9 FORM, STRUCTURE, AND ORGANIZATION
      (pp. 88-106)

      Suppose you are helping a child assemble a toy giraffe, just removed from the gift box. Out comes a longish neck and backbone, in three pieces; a head, in one; four legs, in twelve; a tail, in two. Unlike the man from Mars, who has never seen even a drawing of a giraffe and never contemplated the concept of a vertebrate, you should have an easy time of it. You know how a toy giraffe should look—you do not have to create the form from scratch—and if by chance you falter, you can stare at the picture on...

    • 10 WRONG WORDS, LONG SENTENCES, AND OTHER MISTER MEANERS
      (pp. 107-152)

      From choosing the right word to linking several paragraphs in logical sequence, the writer faces a series of choices. Anywhere along the way, a mistake will hinder understanding. Though surely the well-meaning writer commits no error with felonious intent, the cumulative impact on the reader is often fatal. Dorothy Evslin, a professor of English at a community college in Westchester County, New York, told of a student who wrote in an essay: “He was arrested for parking tickets and other mister meaners.”¹ That phrase offers an apt name for the infractions that we discuss in this chapter.

      These are the...

    • 11 REVISING YOUR PROSE
      (pp. 153-175)

      Finished a draft of that brief you’ve been researching the past month? Good show. Have a swell dinner. Take in a movie. Lounge in the tub. Get some sleep. But don’t gloat. You’re only half done. Maybe not even.

      Writing is like building a house. Working with a plan, you put up the superstructure—you dig a foundation, pour in concrete, erect the walls, lay the beams that carry the stress, and finally nail down the roof. Your neighbors can see the framework of your dwelling. If you’re careful (and lucky), you will have anticipated unevenness in the soil and...

    • 12 MAKING YOUR WRITING MEMORABLE
      (pp. 176-198)

      Until now, we have shown how to write acceptable prose—prose more serviceable than that of most lawyers. Apply our principles and you will produce sturdy prose. For most purposes, sustained clarity is sufficient; you will be considered an able writer. But writing is more than clarity and concision. Many would-be painters are adept at drawing; they can draft a cloud or a human form that is technically acceptable. Their finished works, however, are not judged solely by technique but by more subtle considerations of style, feeling, and composition. So tone, voice, and style mark an essay as more than...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 199-208)
  8. USAGE NOTES
    (pp. 209-228)
  9. AN EDITING CHECKLIST
    (pp. 229-236)
  10. EDITING EXERCISES
    (pp. 237-240)
  11. SUGGESTED REVISIONS TO EDITING EXERCISES
    (pp. 241-248)
  12. REFERENCE WORKS
    (pp. 249-256)
  13. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 257-266)
  14. ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    (pp. 267-268)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 269-276)