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August 2013
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October 2013

Mark Herrmann on keeping your client-editor happy.

Every writer needs an editor. Every good writer knows this. So every good writer welcomes comments and suggestions from a thoughtful, knowledgeable editor. And when the editor happens to be your client’s in-house counsel, any lawyer-writer with half a brain will want to make that editor enjoy the relationship—enjoyment will lead to more work. (Bonus: If the editor enjoys the relationship, chances are that the lawyer-writer will enjoy it too.)

So how can the writer make the writer-editor relationship more enjoyable? Mark Herrmann has some ideas about that. So take a look at his recent article, A Tale of Two Edits. I’ve been on both sides of the writer-editor relationship. From that perspective, I think Mark is on to something.

Mark blogs regularly at Above the Law, where he often writes about the kind of writing that pleases clients (or at least the good ones), and the kind that doesn’t. He is also the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law—if you haven’t read that one yet, you should.

I suppose this is a good thing.

West’s headnote of the day:

Although one might wish that the legislature had drafted its statutes with the absolute uniformity, clarity, and precision of an English grammar teacher, it is not the court’s place to require that the legislature draft its statutes with that degree of precision.

Gladstone Special Road Dist. No. 3 of Clay County v. County of Clay, 248 S.W.3d 60 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008).

The opposite of empathy

Lately I have been thinking about the importance of empathy in persuasive writing—empathy for the reader. This quotation of the day, courtesy of Bryan Garner, describes a lack of empathy:

“No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence.” William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style 84 (3d ed. 1979).

I would add “persuasively” to “decently.”

A little lesson in word order

Earlier today, one of my sisters posted a semantically interesting message on Facebook. Her daughter had outgrown a pair of ice skates, so my sister was looking for someone who could use them. So she asked whether anyone could use “a pair of white girl’s size 13 ice skates.”

Of course, she meant that the skates are white, not that the skates are more suitable for one ethnic group than another. Still, I was reminded me of a little lesson in English linguistics: readers tend to think that a modifier modifies the first following word that it can modify. In this instance, moving “white” closer to “ice skates” clarifies the message. So, can anyone out there use a pair of girl’s white ice skates, size 13?

Next on my reading list

Today I received two books that I look forward to reading: How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark, and Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch by Constance Hale. I’ve learned a lot from these writers’ prior books, so I’ll go into these with high expectations.

One thing I’ll suggest for anyone looking for reading material to become a better legal writer: Don’t stick to legal-writing books. It’s been said (I think by Bryan Garner) that good legal writing is just good writing applied to legal topics. So look for books by and for non-legal, non-fiction writers. Don’t get me wrong: there are many worthwhile books focused on legal writing. I’m just saying that if you really want to excel, if you want to be a leader rather than a follower, then you need to open your mind to ideas outside of whatever world you labor in.