The Writing Process for New Lawyers: Getting it Written and Right, by Gerald Lebovits, The Legal Writer, 89 N.Y. St. B.J. 80 (May 2017) (with hat tip to William P. Statsky)
Although this article is about the basics of legal writing, even seasoned legal writers will find it useful and instructive. Regardless of how well we think we write, we can always improve.
This article puts an emphasis on focusing on the purpose of your document, organizing your thoughts, considering your reader, researching, and editing. In short, all the basics you need to write well. -CCE
GPO Style Manual: new edition, Barco 3.0: Law Library Reference
The Government Publishing Office has published a thorough and updated Style Manual, which includes rules for punctuation, grammar, abbreviations, and computer terms, among other things. You will find “New Features and Enhancements” at https://www.govinfo.gov/features/release-notes/govinfo-beta-launch.
3 Easy-to-Keep Legal-Writing Resolutions for 2017, by Lisa Solomon, Now Counsel Network Blog©
Made your New Year’s resolution yet? Going for the usual? This year I will lose weight, go to the gym, and swear off fried food and chocolate? No way. Giving up chocolate would take a serious toll on my mental health.
So may I recommend honing your legal writing skills as alternative? I promise there’s no gym fees, and you can eat all the chocolate you want. -CCE
Do Not Use “and/or” in Legal Writing, by Ted Tjaden, Slaw Canada’s online legal writing magazine
If there was any question in my mind about whether using “and/or” is good legal writing, it is resolved. After reading Mr. Tjaden’s post, supported by detailed, exhaustive research, you too may become a believer. -CCE
I remain surprised at the number of intelligent, articulate, and well-read legal professionals who still use ‘and/or’ in legal writing.
I am therefore creating this post to document a fairly complete list of authorities that support what I think is the better (if not obvious) view: never use ‘and/or’ in legal writing (or any writing). And yes, I said ‘never.’
Refdesk.com – Fact Checker for the Internet
Refdesk.com has been around a long time. If you have never seen it or used it, please give me the honor of making the introductions.
Go the home page: http://www.refdesk.com. There is a lot to absorb. Take your time. Scroll down the page, and check it out.
Bothered by the ads popping up on the page? There is an easy fix. Support Refdesk. Contribute $25, and Refdesk is add free for a year. No, you don’t have to contribute $25. You don’t have to contribute at all. But, if you want to use Refdesk frequently, I encourage you to contribute something.
If you are like me, you do not want to keep scrolling to find what you want to see – you simply want to get there. Go to the top of the website, and look to the right. You will see three search tools: (1) Check Email; (2) Quick Links; and (3) Reference Desk. Right away, you can see that this has potential as home page.
I want to look up grammar and punctuation rules. Go to Reference Desk, click the down arrow, and choose “Grammar/Style.” That’s a nice assortment of writing guides, but not exactly what I want. I’m looking for The Elements of Style. Click on More at the bottom of the page. There it is.
You have seen one small example of the information this site can give you. I leave it to you to seek out the rest. -CCE
The Legal Writer – The Problem with Shall, by Elizabeth Ruiz Frost, Oregon State Bar Bulletin (February/March)
When we draft legal documents for our clients, we aim to articulate who can do what and when. Those rights and obligations are established through words of authority. But in legal writing, inconsistent use and interpretation of some words of authority can create ambiguity in our documents.
The word shall can be particularly troublesome. Drafters often use shall in place of other words like does, will, should, might or may. If we use shall sometimes to connote a mandatory term, at other times to connote a discretionary term, and once in a while to connote a future event, how can a reader accurately determine our intent? When a word of authority is used inconsistently, courts are left to determine the word’s meaning. To avoid squabbles over ambiguous terms, think through each word of authority that you write and use these words consistently.
Using That and Which Correctly, Better Writing Skills, Writing Resources From Scribe Consulting
An easy-to-understand example of the difference between “that” and “which” and why, in legal and business writing, it is important to use each correctly. It also provides an excellent example of how grammar and punctuation mistakes can dramatically change the meaning of your document. -CCE
For more writing tips on common grammar errors, go to http://www.betterwritingskills.com/writing-tips.html.
How To Write Good Legal Stuff, by Eugene Volokh and J. Alexander Tanford, Maurer School of Law© 2001, 2009
This is a guide to good legal writing. Good writing consists of avoiding common clunkers and using simpler replacements. The replacements aren’t always perfect synonyms but 90% of the time they’re better than the original. Warning: Some changes also require grammatical twiddling of other parts of the sentence. This is not a guide to proper high English usage. We don’t give two hoots whether you dangle participles, split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions. We care that you can write clearly.
Video: A Down and Dirty Writing, Editing and Grammar Course For Lawyers, Gary Kinder, Legal Productivity®
Regardless of how good your legal writing may be, there is always room for improvement. Like anything else, your writing skills improve with practice.
You may not think your writing skills are less than ideal. You may not think it’s a big deal – who cares whether your grammar or punctuation is perfect? Actually, most people, including clients. -CCE
The Pros Know: Plain Language Is Just Good Writing, by Mark Cooney, 94 Mich. B.J. 54 (Sept. 2015) (with hat tip to William P. Statsky!)
Is plain language foreign to ‘real’ writers? To the pros, I mean? Would professional writers, editors, and literary agents outside our field scoff at the plain style that this column has long endorsed? Would plain English draw ridicule in those quarters? Too childish? Dumbed down? Illiterate? And would readers of literate magazines, technical journals, or fiction balk at the simplicity, the directness?
This is an easy one: no—on all counts. . . .
11 Grammar Lessons from the Leaked CIA Style Book, by Nick Greene, Mental Floss Inc. © 2012
In 2014, a leaked copy of the Directorate of Intelligence Style Manual & Writer’s Guide for Intelligence Publications found its way to the Internet. That long title belies what it actually is: A well-written style book for the CIA — the Strunk & White for Spies.
Inside the 181 pages (not including the index) is a terrific guide for normal folks, and not just government sleuths. It still offers some unique advice, however, and you won’t find some of these examples in your copy of the Oxford American Dictionary. . . .
Before-and-After Comparisons, PlainLanguge.gov
There are a number of superior – and free – websites available to anyone who wants to improve his legal writing skills. PlainLaguage.gov is one of them.
I doubt that anyone wants to write poorly. Often, just showing before-and-after examples improve writing skills. One of the most efficient ways I have found when teaching legal writing is to take a bad writing example, identify why it is ineffective or just plain silly, and suggest different ways to fix it.
Here are examples of government regulations, manuals, handbooks, reports, and other publications that show “before and after” examples that use plain language to improve a sentence, paragraph, or document. -CCE
Who Wins in the Supreme Court? An Examination of Attorney and Law Firm Influence, by Alan Feldman, University of Southern California, Political Science, SSRN.com (Date posted: August 18, 2015 ; Last revised: August 21, 2015)
This paper is a detailed analysis of what type of legal writing and briefs from 1946 through 2013 have been the most influential with the United States Supreme Court and the lawyers who write them. Interestingly, lawyers who write short sentences in the active voice and who use fewer words than the majority of brief writers are the most successful. It is a fascinating read, and strongly recommended. -CCE
Writing Cheat Sheets for Your Summer at the Screen, by Ross Guberman, Legal Writing Tips for Attorneys and Judges
There is something here for everyone – student, newbie, or seasoned professional. Writing tips for memos, grammar, punctuation, biggest partner complaints, checklist for drafting contracts, and more. Many thanks, Mr. Guberman! -CCE
As a writing trainer for many of the nation’s top law firms with about 500 summer-associate workshops under my belt, I’ve learned first-hand where summer associates go wrong and how to help them succeed.
Here are some questions that will likely come up over the summer, along with links to some free online resources. . . .
Affect Versus Effect, by Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl
When to use affect and effect is one of the most common questions I get. This is an expanded show based on the original episode covering when to use affect with an a and when to use effect with an e. . . .
Ohio Appeals Court Ruling Is A Victory For Punctuation, Sanity, by Sarah Larimer, The Washington Post (with hat tip to William P. Statsky)
Punctuation nerds, rejoice! For all of us who care deeply about really good legal writing, grammar, and punctuation, today we are vindicated! Thank you, Judge Robert A. Hendrickson, of the Twelfth District Court of Appeals in Ohio. -CCE
Look, I know you’re all busy, but let’s just take a minute today and celebrate Judge Robert A. Hendrickson and the 12th District Court of Appeals in Ohio.
These defenders of punctuation.
These champions of copy editors everywhere.
That one court that totally called out a village ordinance for its comma-related failings.