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.
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
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. . . .
Using Adverbs Recklessly Can Hurt Your Appeal And Vex The Courts, by Debra Cassens Weiss, American Bar Journal – Appellate Practice (with hat tip to William P. Statsky)
Adverbs can be a boon and a bane to lawyers who argue over the meaning of words such as ‘knowingly,’ ‘intentionally’ and ‘recklessly’ and sprinkle them throughout their briefs.
Indeed, the number of disputes over how to interpret adverbs in criminal statutes has surged since the 1980s, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports, citing research by Brooklyn Law School professor Lawrence Solan. But losing an argument over statutory construction isn’t the only downside to adverbs. . . .
Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist, Mignon Fogary, Grammar Girl Blog
At the end of a recent writing webcast, we distributed a Grammar Girl editing checklist that turned out to be so popular we decided to make it widely available. Print out the checklist and keep it on your desk as a handy reference to use when you’re editing.
ITS Style Guide, The University of Texas at Austin
Easy Peasy. Definitely worth a bookmark. -CCE
The ITS Style Guide is an online reference for the Information Technology Services (ITS) department at The University of Texas at Austin. It promotes consistency in ITS publications with a focus on technical communications. The Guide covers correct writing styles, word usage, capitalization, punctuation, and other issues that arise in written communications.
The Seven Writing Strategies of Highly Effective Trial Judges, by Ross Guberman Blog (with hat tip to Raymond Ward, the (new) legal writer blog!)
This post hits on all of the key elements of great, not just good, legal writing. It is rarely explained better than this. Pay attention . . . . -CCE
Asked to name the world’s best opinion writers, traditionalists might rattle off Lord Denning, Learned Hand, or Oliver Wendell Holmes. Modernists often prefer Antonin Scalia or Richard Posner. And the trendy might cite new kids on the block like Lord Sumption or Elena Kagan.
Those august names all deserve heaps of praise. But the fame that these judges enjoy raises questions of its own: Can you write a “great” opinion if you’re a judge who’s not a household name, or even especially influential? And can you write a “great” opinion in a case that’s not a high-profile constitutional crisis, but just another run-of-the-mill dispute in an overflowing docket?
I say “yes” on both counts. No matter how routine a case, and no matter how little time you have, you can write a great opinion. It may not be “great” for the ages, but it can offer readers a clear, accessible, and easy-to-follow analysis of your reasoning, with even a bit of flair or personality for good measure. . . .
Bad Legal Writing, Brief Writing, Charleston School of Law, Citations, Grammar, Headnotes, Judicial Clerk, Kentucky Bench and Bar Association Magazine, Law Clerk, Legal Writing, Professor Brock Collins, Punctuation, Quotations
Writing Trial Memoranda: A Law Clerk’s Perspective, by Brock Collins, Kentucky Bench and Bar Association Magazine (January 2014) (with hat tip to Legal Writing Prof Blog)
On page 28 of the Kentucky Bench and Bar Association Magazine, Brock Collins, a Professor at Charleston School of Law, describes what he learned about legal writing as a former judicial clerk. Professor Brock observes that “[t]he quality of an attorney’s credibility and reputation is based in large part on the quality and thoroughness of her legal writing.” In this excellent article, Professor Brock shares his legal writing tips. -CCE
This list barely scratches the surface of the wealth of information on good legal writing, but it’s a start. More to come. CCE
Plain-English Subcommittee, Chronological List of Articles, Michigan Bar Journal, State Bar of Michigan
Legal Writing Tips, Michael Aleo, Legal Writing Tips Blog
the (new) legal writing blog, by Raymond P. Ward
UCLA School of Law Legal Research and Writing Guide, UCLA Law School, Hugh and Hazel Darling Law Library
(Please note the tabs at this same website on all types of Legal Research, Mobile Legal Research, and a Guide to Bluebook Citations. CCE)
Good Legal Writing: of Orwell and Window Panes, by Pamela Samuelson©1984, 46 University of Pittsburgh Law Review 149 (Fall 1984), UC Berkeley School of Information
The Writing Center, Georgetown University Law Center
The lonely only, by Raymond Ward, the (new) legal writer