The good folks at Legal Productivity have put together a list of their top 10 legal-writing blogs. I am happy that they included this one, and I can vouch for several others on their list.
Good Copy, Bad Copy has an excellent post showing how real, definite, concrete language grabs people’s hearts, as opposed to the opposite, which doesn’t. It will only take a couple of minutes to read. I guarantee that those minutes will be well spent.
Yesterday’s rant about “the Lenten season” was fun to write. But today it occurred to me that a deeper analysis of the problem and the solution might be useful. The lesson is one part George Orwell and one part C. Edward Good.
In A Grammar Book for You and I—Oops, Me!, Ed Good teaches the secret of concision concision’s secret: study clauses to determine if they can be converted to phrases, and study phrases to determine if they can be converted into a single word. “The Lenten season” is a fine example of a phrase that can be converted into a single word. We look at it, and we see a noun, season, modified by an adjective, Lenten. Our editorial brains know that a noun needing a modifier may be imprecise; that there may be a more precise noun that would eliminate the need for the modifier. In this instance, that noun is hiding in the adjective Lenten. Every good Catholic girl and boy knows what Lent is. We know that the root of the adjective Lenten is the noun Lent. We know that the noun Lent refers to a season (from Ash Wednesday until Holy Thursday). Realizing that, all other things being equal, one precise word is better than three imprecise words (see George Orwell), we strike the Lenten season in favor of Lent.
Another example: Consider the phrase “ran at a leisurely pace.” The prepositional phrase “at a leisurely pace” might be shortened to “slowly” or ”comfortably.” But we’re not done. The phrases “ran slowly” and “ran comfortably” might be shortened to a single word, jogged.
Well, I didn’t resolve to give up anything for Lent, but it seems that my penance has found me. For some reason, no one in the news media seems capable of referring to Lent as “Lent.” Instead, they feed us “the Lenten season.” Three words, five syllables, doing the work of a single, one-syllable word. From the same folks that have given us such verbal diarrhea as “the afternoon hours” and “around the mid-day time frame.” Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve had to endure this repeated assault on my sensibilities, and the assault will not likely stop until Easter. This is way worse than, say, giving up Dewars for Lent.
Dear media types: Lent is a season. So please take a tiny step toward concision by calling Lent “Lent.” That is all.
Here is West’s Headnote of the Day:
It is not enough merely to mention a possible argument in a brief in the most skeletal way, leaving the court to do counsel’s work, create the ossature for the argument, and put flesh on its bones. Alejandro-Martinez v. Ortiz-Vazquez, 485 Fed.Appx. 441 (1st Cir. 2012).
Let me go out on a limb here. It’s from the First Circuit, and it uses a word like ossature. My guess is that the opinion’s author is Judge Bruce Selya. I will hit the publish button; then I will look up the decision. Don’t let the suspense kill you, because there’s not much risk here.
Bryan Garner has started a legal-writing blog. Most of the content consists of his Usage Tips of the Day, which themselves are worthwhile. But he occasionally posts other worthwhile things, such as this post on how to craft a letter. I suggest adding it to your reading list.
Over at Texas Appellate Watch, my friend Scott Stolley has posted some examples of his handiwork. Scott is one of the best appellate lawyers you’ll ever come across. So if you want to see how it’s done by a real pro, take a look.