Reading recommendations for 2021

I’m starting the new year by reading Advanced Legal Writing: Theories and Strategies in Persuasive Writing by Michael R. Smith (2d ed. 2008). There’s actually a third edition out now, but it’s pricey. So I’m reading a “used” copy of the second edition that I picked up for $14. (Used is in quotation marks because it arrived in mint condition.) I’ve read enough of it to recommend it and to add it to the book list on the right side of this blog. The author, Professor Smith, believes the same things I do about persuasive legal writing: he bases his recommendations on classical rhetoric (logos, pathos, and ethos) and modern science, including cognitive psychology and linguistics. I’m only about 100 pages into it, and I’ve already learned some things I can apply to my next brief.

Next on my reading list is A Clearing in the Forest by Steven L. Winter (2001). I’ve been reading a lot lately about metaphor, including metaphor in legal writing.* Everything I’ve read about metaphor that’s been published since 2001 cites this book as the definitive study of metaphor in legal writing. Like any good researching lawyer, I like to go to the source.

A question and a challenge: What are you doing in 2021 to improve your writing skills?

______

James Geary, I Is an Other (2011); George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (1980, afterword 2003).


Shortcuts for typing a § and a ¶

If you’re using Windows, you can type a section sign (§) or a pilcrow (¶) in any Windows application, including Word, using your numeric keypad. Here’s how.

First, make sure your Num Lock is on; that’s the key in the upper left corner of your numeric keypad. Most keypads have a little light indicated whether Num Lock is on or off.

To type the section sign, hold down the Alt key and press 0167 in sequence. In Word, you may have to hit space bar or another key before the symbol appears.

To type a pilcrow or paragraph sign, hold down the Alt key and press 0182 in sequence.

There are other Alt codes for dozens of typographic symbols that you won’t find on your keyboard. They work the same way: with Num Lock on, hold down Alt and press four numbers. To find those numeric codes, check out this web page by some folks at Penn State.


Amendments to federal rules effective Dec. 1

Yesterday, December 1, was the effective date for amendments to federal rules of practice, including the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The FRAP amendments are minor and concern only responses to petitions for en banc hearing or rehearing and petitions for panel rehearing. Under the new rules, responses are subject to the same length limits as the petitions: 3,900 words if produced by computer and 15 pages if handwritten or typewritten. To download a copy of the FRAP amendments, follow this link.

For information about amendments to other sets of federal rules, follow this link.


Legalese makes you look inferior

Lawyers who communicate in plain, straightforward language are perceived as more intelligent and more capable than those who attempt to communicate in legalese. Now there’s another study confirming this fact. The study is described in this blog post by the British Psychological Society. Here’s the money quote:

[A]ccording to a series of studies published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, those who are of low status within a group are also predisposed towards jargon-filled language. Zachariah Brown at Columbia University and colleagues found that these people appear to want to compensate for their lowly position by using language that is often associated with high status. 

If you’re interested in reading the study itself (and don’t mind shelling out $39.95 for it), follow this link.


For “Bridging the Gap” participants

This morning, I gave a one-hour CLE presentation on appellate practice for the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Bridging the Gap webinar, a program for new lawyers. For those who attended the program (and anyone else who may be interested), here are some links and things to supplement my written materials:


The science behind plain language

Most of us know that plain language is more persuasive than legalese. But did you know that there are scientific studies proving that point? Some of that science is summarized in an article I’ve written for the upcoming 2020 volume of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing. To read the article, just follow this citation link: Raymond P. Ward, The Science Behind Plain Language, 19 Scribes J. Legal Writing 181 (2020).


Hurricane Delta court closures

The Louisiana Supreme Court and Louisiana First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Circuits have announced closures in anticipation of Hurricane Delta. Any filings due while the particular court is closed will be timely if filed when the court reopens. For the Louisiana Fifth Circuit, reopening is scheduled for Tuesday, October 13; for the other courts, reopening is scheduled for Monday, October 12. Here are the details:

I haven’t seen an order from the Louisiana Second Circuit, so I assume they’re conducting business as usual today and tomorrow.


Friendly advice from a judge to would-be amici

Here’s recent opinion by Judge Michael Y. Scudder, Jr. of the U.S. Seventh Circuit describing what is and is not helpful in an amicus brief: Prairie Rivers Network v. Dynegy Midwest Generation, LLC, No. 18-3644 (7th Cir. Sept. 24, 2020) (Scudder, J., in chambers)

  • Not helpful: briefs that merely repeat a party’s argument; briefs that “serve only as a show of hands on what interest groups are rooting for what outcome.”
  • Helpful: “A true friend of the court will seek to add value to our evaluation of the issues on appeal.” Ways to do this include the following:
    • Offering a different analytical approach to the legal issues before the court;
    • Highlighting factual, historical, or legal nuance glossed over by the parties;
    • Explaining the broader regulatory or commercial context in which a question comes to the court;
    • Providing practical perspectives on the consequences of potential outcomes;
    • Relaying views on legal questions by employing the tools of social science;
    • Supplying empirical data informing one or another question implicated by an appeal;
    • Conveying instruction on highly technical, scientific, or specialized subjects beyond the ken of most generalst federal judges;
    • Identifying how other jurisdictions—cities, states, or even foreign countries—have approached one or anther aspect of a legal question or regulatory challenge.

In short, “an amicus curiae brief should be additive—it should strive to offer something different, new, and important.”