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April 2009
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June 2009

For writers and readers of judicial opinions

OpinionWriting If you either write or read judicial opinions, then you should read Opinion Writing and Opinion Readers, by Judge Ruggero Aldisert and two of his law clerks, Meehan Rasch and Matthew P. Bartlett. In this paper, Aldisert & Co. examine whether to write an opinion at all, the audiences to whom an opinion may be directed, the structure of an opinion. and the function of each section. If you write judicial opinions, this paper will help you write better ones. If you read judicial opinions, this paper will help you understand them better by understanding the writer’s purposes.

This paper is a preview of the forthcoming second edition of Judge Aldisert’s book Opinion Writing, which (the publisher promises) is “coming soon.”

How to avoid alienating the judge

Courtesy of Evan Schaeffer, here is something every briefwriter needs to know—or to be reminded of: Judges don’t like to see lawyers belittling the other side. That is the lesson of this post by Maxwell Kennerly at Litigation and Trial. Max spotted a news story quoting a judge telling a lawyer, “I'm disheartened by the tone of it — and you seem to be following in that same tone here today.” Curious about what set off the judge, Max located and uploaded the offending brief, studied it, and has given us his take on what may have prompted the judge’s reaction. Max’s post is a must-read for every briefwriter, no matter how experienced.

15 books

(Cross-posted on Minor Wisdom)

John McIntyre inspired this post. John was recently let go as a copy editor by the Baltimore Sun due to the newspaper’s financial death spiral. Anyway, the idea is to list 15 books important to you. Says John, “In my case, I’ve construed it to be books that I’ve looked into repeatedly, or the 15 books I would want to pack up when the severance runs out and the sheriff shows up to turn me out of the house.” With that thought in mind, here are my 15, in the order that they pop into my mind:

  1. The Bible. Specifically, the New American translation. I can’t imagine going through life without a Bible handy.
  2. Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. I need this book for my job, and there’s no other book I know of that covers the same ground.
  3. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces. The best New Orleans-based novel ever written.
  4. Anthony De Mello, Awareness. This book helped me turn the corner on depression. My current happiness is a result of things I learned from it.
  5. Walker Percy, The Second Coming. I need at least one Walker Percy book on this list. Of all his novels, this is my favorite. The Last Gentleman is a close second.
  6. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. This collection of short stories will punch your mind in its solar plexus.
  7. Roy Blount Jr., Feet on the Street. A guy not from New Orleans gets New Orleans. And his outsider’s perspective enables him to get New Orleans in a way that most natives miss.
  8. Richard Daniels, The Heavy Guitar Bible. This book was written for would-be rock-and-rollers. In my case, it introduced me to the structure of the blues—particularly the pentatonic scale.
  9. Bryan A. Garner, The Winning Brief. Several years ago, the first edition of this book (and Bryan’s accompanying seminar) raised my brief-writing consciousness.
  10. William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. This book does not tell you everything you need to know about writing. But I don’t know of any other book that packs so much sound advice into so few pages.
  11. Ruggero Aldisert, Winning on Appeal. Every appellate lawyer needs this book. I am an appellate lawyer. Therefore, ....
  12. Edward Good, A Grammar Book for You and I — Oops, Me! This book and one of its predecessors, Mightier Than the Sword, reveal the grammatical structure of the English language and how a writer can use that structure to maximum effect.
  13. George Gopen, The Sense of Structure. This book too aims to reveal the power of structure to a writer. While Ed Good talks about grammatical structure, George Gopen talks about syntactic and linguistic structure.
  14. Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools. This may be the best book on writing in general that most legal writers are unaware of. Like Ed Good and George Gopen, Roy will add some tools to your writing toolbox. Or, if you’re a lawyer, he will add weapons to your writing arsenal.
  15. Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being. This is a collection of Flannery’s letters. Many of them offer simple and profound spirituality. All of them are served up by one of the south’s best all-time writers.

Save these dates

Marcoisland Those who like to plan way ahead will want to block out June 27–30, 2010. That’s when the Legal Writing Institute will hold its 14th Biennial Conference. Though most of the doings will interest mainly legal-writing teachers, this edition of the conference will feature a special practitioner’s track for practicing lawyers. The venue will be exquisite: the Marriott Beach Resort at Marco Island, Florida.

The bravest among you may be wondering how to get invited to speak at the conference. For information about that, download this. (Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get to work on my proposal.)