I think King’s observation applies to legal writing. From what I’ve seen, most bad legal writing stems from a drive to fit in with the herd—to do whatever everyone else is doing. People are afraid to do things differently from the way they see most others do them. Folks, if you strive to follow the herd, you won’t distinguish yourself. Dare to do things differently; it’s the only way to set yourself apart.
Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” The more words you know, the better your chances of coming up with the right one. That is the point of this recent article by Troy Simpson. In it, he explains how a good vocabulary can enhance your power to persuade. Toward the end, he offers some concrete suggestions to help you build your vocabulary.
Jury instructions are too often so poorly written that even the most intelligent juror cannot understand them. That’s a serious problem. So how can we make jury instructions more understandable? Prof. Peter Tiersma offers many concrete suggestions in this article, available for free download on SSRN. If you’re a trial judge or trial lawyer, you need to read it.
Here’s something having nothing to do with legal writing: my blog-style Christmas newsletter. Alert readers will note a slip into the first-person singular near the end. My mistake, but I’ve decided to leave it in.
If you celebrate Christmas, have a merry one. If not, then best wishes for a peaceful holiday season and a wonder-filled 2010.
At Writing, Clear and Simple, Roy Jacobsen reminds us that the first draft is, well, just a first draft. Roy’s point is to do something Bryan Garner advocates: When writing the first draft, put your judge (your editor or critic) in the closet; just get the damned thing down on paper. That’s good advice. For legal writers, I would add this: Remember that, according to Papa Hemingway, your first draft is probably shit. So don’t get too defensive when it comes to editing. Nobody—not even a Hemingway—usually gets it right on the first draft. And chances are you’re no Hemingway.
- SPOGG (The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar) collects a list of links to language essays by Seattle lawyer Robert Cumbow. I haven’t had a chance to read all of the essays, but from what little I’ve read so far, I’d say they’re worth checking out.
- The unabashed Howard Bashman reports “Commas key in battle to control Philly newspapers?” Howard links to an AP story, according to which the issue is whether a modifying clause set off by commas is restrictive or nonrestrictive. If that makes your grammarian’s heart go pitter-patter, you know where to click.
- The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports on Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel, a writing stickler who isn’t afraid to whack lawyers upside the head with Strunk & White.
- Evan Schaeffer reminds us of an excellent article he wrote a while back on how to overcome writer’s block and get that first draft done.
If you're looking for high-quality hours to fill your CLE quota for 2009, then you may be interested in either one of a pair of one-hour webinars offered by Bryan A. Garner: Better Briefwriting in 60 Minutes (Dec. 17) and Better Contract-Drafting in 60 minutes (Dec. 18). For details and on-line registration, click here.
And now, for something completely different—some guys who take their fonts a little too seriously. (Hat tip to First Draft.)
The good folks at Plain English Campaign have posted the November 2009 issue of Plain English magazine. Also on line are 10 years’ worth of back issues. The second-best part (after the content) is the price: free. So go there, peruse some back issues, and be both edified and entertained.