The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual offers free, on-line advice on capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and many other areas of style. Its About page says, "The Style Manual is the product of many years of public printing experience, and its rules are based on principles of good usage and custom in the printing trade." The on-line version allows you to browse the table of contents or search for specific words or topics.
The Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) offers the ALWD Citation Manual, an alternative to the Bluebook. I just got my copy of the third edition. While I haven't attempted a comprehensive comparison between the ALWD manual and the Bluebook, I can say that so far, the ALWD manual appears to be more complete, easier to use, and friendlier to the eye than the Bluebook.
The third edition is available through Aspen Publishers. I also found it on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com, but on those web sites, it's not identified as the third edition. Look for the edition with the 2006 copyright date, ISBN 0-7355-5571-0, and 572 pages. And if you run a search on Amazon.com or B&N.com, don't assume that the first-listed result is the latest edition. (Today the third edition was the 2nd-listed result on B&N.com and 4th-listed on Amazon.com.)
p.s. (3/28/06): For more information about the ALWD Citation Manual, read this article by Wayne Schiess. And if you own the manual, bookmark the ALWD Citation Manual web page, where you'll find links to the appendices, answers to frequently asked questions, updates (think of it as a cyber-pocket part), and instructional resources for legal-writing teachers.
If you think you know etymology, then here's a challenge for you: Etymologic, which bills itself as "the toughest word game on the Web." Warning: it's not kind.
The Michigan Bar Journal has a terrific collection of legal-writing columns. The columns are written or edited by the Bar's Plain English Committee. Joe Kimble is the editor and a frequent contributor; other authors' names I recognized include Beverly Ray Burlingame, Wayne Schiess, Irving Younger, and Bryan A. Garner.
Do you need a style manual? If your credibility before the court matters to you,
than then1 the answer is "yes." A recent survey of appellate judges in New York and New England revealed that, in many judges' minds, failure to use a recognized style manual affects the briefwriter's credibility.2
If a piece of writing is a team effort, then a style manual is critical. As Wayne Schiess notes, "Having a reliable and consistent source for answering writing questions will raise the writing IQ of everyone who consults it, and it will help settle many small writing skirmishes that can flare up at the office."
Fortunately, there is a style manual designed for lawyers: The Redbook, by Bryan A. Garner. In it, you will find guidance on headings, footnotes, and everything in between, including grammar, punctuation, capitalization, typeface and document design, and citations. I've had this book for a few years now, and have found in it the answer every style question I've since confronted. Like the infamous Bluebook, it's spiral-bound, so it lies flat on your desk, freeing both hands for typing or for marking up a draft.
1 Thanks to alert reader Scott Meyer for catching that typo.
2 David Lewis, Common Knowledge About Appellate Briefs: True or False?, 6 J. App. Prac. & Process 331, 341 (Fall 2004).
Quoting Clarity's statement about itself:
CLARITY is a worldwide group of lawyers and interested lay people. Its aim is the use of good, clear language by the legal profession. We hope to achieve this by:
- avoiding archaic, obscure, and over-elaborate language in legal work;
- drafting legal documents in language that is both certain in meaning and easily understandable;
- exchanging ideas and precedents, not to be followed slavishly but to give guidance in producing good written and spoken legal language;
- exerting a firm, responsible influence on the style of legal language, with the hope of achieving a change in fashion.
Clarity publishes a journal, appropriately titled Clarity. The current issue is for members only, but the rest of us can download back issues for free by clicking here.
(Thanks to Effective Written Communication.)
As many of you know, Certworthy is an appellate newsletter written and edited by the DRI Appellate Advocacy Committee and published by DRI. The Winter 2006 issue includes the following articles:
- The Right to Appeal: Are Its Days Numbered? by Ralph Johnson III
- Interlocutory Appeals Under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b): Turning Vinegar Into Wine, by Eric P. Schroeder and Benjamin T. Erwin
- Livelier Briefs: A Symposium
- Recent Developments: Bujol v. Entergy Services, Inc.: Revisited and Reaffirmed
- Style Points for Exemplary Briefs: A Former Court Attorney's View, by Matthew S. Lerner1
- John Bailey's The Lost German Slave Girl, book review by Roger W. Hughes
To download a PDF copy, just click here.
1 Matt Lerner is proprietor of New York Civil Law.
How can you spot bad legal writing? Here are five signs, courtesy of Irving Younger:
- "the dreaded provided that"
- "the unnecessary herein, hereinabove, and hereinafter"
- "the screaming adverb or adjective"
- "humorless exaggeration"
- "egregious legalisms"
Need to buy a gift for that special legal writer1 in your life? If so, browse around the Bad Ass Legal Writing Store.
1 No, "special legal writer" is not a contradiction in terms.