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November 2008
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January 2009

My New Year's resolutions

I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions before. Now is a good time to start, because there are some good books that I want to read—or finish reading. So for 2009, I resolve to do the following:

  • Finish Thinking Like a Writer, by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a couple of years now, but didn’t start reading it until a few weeks ago, shortly after hearing Prof. Terrell speak at a seminar. The title suggests the basic message: to write more effectively, lawyers should think less like lawyers and more like writers. The book is big and thick, which makes it a bit intimidating. In fact, the authors promise that “requires more effort than most books about legal writing.” But from what I’ve covered so far (112 out of 415 pages), the effort will be worthwhile. For a taste, click here.
  • Finish Alphabet Juice, by one of my favorite authors, Roy Blount, Jr. One of my Christmas presents this year was a copy of this book, autographed by the author. The subtitle suggests what this book is about: “The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof: Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory.” The entry about Wilt Chamberlain (which I skipped ahead to read) is worth the book’s price. (Blount also wrote Feet on the Street, a must-read for anyone who wants to know what New Orleans is all about.)
  • Read Bryan Garner’s latest, Garner on Language and Writing. This book is a collection of essays on writing, language, and style. I just ordered mine a minute ago. It’s 876 pages, so it may take me the better part of 2009 to finish.

Perspectives on legal research and writing

The Fall 2008 issue of Perspectives is now available. For those who don’t already know, Perspectives is a periodical for teachers of legal research and writing, published three times a year by West. The second-best thing about Perspectives (after its content) is its price: it’s free. To receive a hard copy by mail, click here and fill out the form. It’s also available on line in PDF format.

Though it’s written and published for teachers, each issue usually has something for practitioners who want to improve their research and writing skills. The current issue includes at least two items in that category:

  • Legal Research Readings to Inspire and Inform Students, by Shawn G. Nevers. Nevers is a legal-research instructor at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. In this article, he lists and reviews several other articles that he uses as supplemental reading materials for his legal-research course. If your legal practice includes legal research, you’ll probably find some useful information here.

Louisiana legal-writing seminar

For those who like to plan their CLE way ahead of time: the Louisiana State Bar Association is holding a legal-writing seminar in New Orleans on March 20, 2009. The seminar will be held at the Sheraton, 500 Canal Street. Yours truly is on the program, which includes the following sessions:

  • 9:30 — 10:30 a.m.: Creating Contracts: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lawyer, by Albert J. Derbes IV.
  • 10:45 – 11:45 a.m.: Counting Each Shot: Techniques for Emphasis and De-emphasis, by Raymond P. Ward.
  • 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.: Finding and Using Your Main Message for Maximum Persuasive Power, by Michael R. Fontham.

It’s still too early to register, but not too early to mark your calendars.

Write like a human being

The January 2009 issue of the ABA Journal includes a column by Jim McElhaney on direct examination. The column includes this tidbit for legal writers:

Legalese is a poisonous set of verbal habits that we unconsciously turn on or off, depending on where we are and what we’re doing. It’s the curse of a traditional legal education....


Here’s the secret for both effective writing and effective speaking:

Learn to talk like a regular person wherever you are. In the office or at home. In court or out. And write like a regular person for both personal and professional matters unless you have a very good reason for using a precise ligal term of art—which is very seldom.

Briefwriting tip of the day

Today’s briefwriting tip comes from Judge Posner, via Avitia v. Metropolitan Club of Chicago, Inc., 49 F.3d 1219, 1224 (7th Cir. 1995):

As a reminder to future appellants, we point out that a statement of facts which, as the Club’s does, treats contested testimony of the losing party’s witnesses as “facts” violates 7th Cir. R. 28(d)(1). We have not yet stricken a brief for a violation of this rule, but let this opinion be a warning that we have the power, and we may one day have the inclination, to do so. We are not sticklers, precisians, nitpickers, or sadists. But in an era of swollen appellate dockets, courts are entitled to insist on meticulous compliance with rules sensibly designed to make appellate briefs as valuable an aid to the decisional process as they can be. A misleading statement of facts increases the opponent’s work, our work, and the risk of error. [Internal citations omitted.]