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Inspiration from George Orwell

Subscribers to Garner's Usage Tip of the Day were treated today to this quotation by George Orwell. Substitute "brief" for "book," and you've got the proper attitude for writing a brief:

"When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, 'I am going to produce a work of art.' I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing." George Orwell, "Why I Write" (1946), in A Collection of Essays 309, 315 (1946).

Where to find exemplary tight writing

Let's say you want to learn how to "write tighter," to "[p]ick the fewest words possible" and "rely on compression to make your ideas explode off the page." Where would you look to find models of this kind of tightness? In this article for Slate, Jack Shafer suggests reading the movie capsules in the New York Times's daily TV listings:

The capsules spend 20 words—and usually fewer—to pass informed judgment on movies. Even if you never intend to watch any of the films, the capsules make for good morning reading. Consider this taut kiss-off of The Matrix Revolutions: "Ferocious machine assault on a battered Zion. Stop frowning, Neo; it's finally over." Appreciate, if you will, the efficient setup and slam of the 2 Fast 2 Furious capsule: "Ex-cop and ex-con help sexy customs agent indict money launderer. Two fine performances, both by cars." And for compression, it's hard to better the clip for the Julie Davis feature Amy's Orgasm. It warns potential viewers away with just four syllables: "Change the station."

Citation of unpublished decisions soon to be okay in Louisiana

This one is for Louisiana lawyers. Currently in Louisiana, unpublished decisions of the courts of appeal cannot be cited. See Rule 2-16.3 Unif. R. La. Cts. App. That will change when Act 644 of the recently concluded legislative session becomes effective. The Act creates new Code of Civil Procedure Article 2168 which (a) requires Louisiana appellate courts to post their unpublished decisions on their respective web sites; and (b) authorizes citation of those unpublished opinions as legal authorities.

p.s. Coincidentally, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently approved new Fed. R. App. P. 32.1, prohibiting the federal appellate courts from restricting citation of unpublished opinions. Texas appellate lawyer Scott Stolley has written a commentary about new Rule 32.1, which just arrived in my in-box and which I hope you can read by clicking on the link. I don't know whether this satisfies the commenters' constititional concerns (see first two comments to this post), but it certainly demonstrates a trend toward approving citation of unpublished decisions.

Mark Herrmann, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law

CurmudgeonIf the Curmudgeon were asked whom this book is for, he might say it's for those of you who, this month, are cramming irrelevant crap into your heads so that you can spill it out during the bar examination, after which you will forget it all and move on to the next set of irrelevant crap, then in a few weeks or months, have someone tell you whether you passed or failed.

The Curmudgeon isn't loquacious. He's neither gentle nor genteel. He is abrupt. But if follow his advice, you just might succeed as a lawyer. Buy his book, read it, and do as he says; you'll be glad you did.

Don't take my word for it. Read Chapter One, "How to Write." It's free for downloading; just click here. Follow the advice in Chapter One, and you'll make a good impression on the higher-ups at the firm.

The book sells for $34.95 on the ABA web site ($24.95 for ABA Litigation Section members). Don't buy it there; buy it from Amazon for $22.02.

The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law was written mostly by Mark Herrmann (the lawyer, not the quarterback), who doesn't look like a curmudgeon, with a little help from secretary, Laura Bozzelli, and his partner John Edwards (the lawyer, not the former VP candidate).

General Suter's memo

For those "intending to prepare a petition for a writ of certiorari in booklet format and pay the $300 docket fee," U.S. Supreme Court Clerk William K. Suter has prepared this memo, "highlight[ing] the most common mistakes observed by the Clerk’s Office. By following these guidelines you may help to expedite the processing of your petition." In it, you will find advice on all technical requirements for a cert. petition. (Hat tip to Bob Markle, DOJ appellate lawyer, for this tip.)

Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar & Style

Jack Lynch, an English professor for Rutgers University, describes his Guide to Grammar & Style as follows:

These notes are a miscellany of grammatical rules and explanations, comments on style, and suggestions on usage I put together for my classes. Nothing here is carved in stone, and many comments are matters of personal preference — feel free to psychoanalyze me by examining my particular hangups and bêtes noires. Anyone who can resist turning my own preferences into dogma is welcome to use this HTML edition. Feedback is always welcome.

As this syllabus suggests, Jack brings a welcome dose of humor to grammar-and-usage business. So check out his site; you'll be edified and entertained. (Hat tips to Evan Schaeffer and Celia Elwell.)