A Potpourri Of Tips About Legal Writing, by Judith D. Fischer, Legal Writing Prof Blog
The Tenth Circuit Applies The Art of Sentence Diagramming, by Judith D. Fischer, Legal Writing Prof Blog (with hat tip to Brian Glassman!)
he Tenth Circuit recently interpreted a statute so confusing that the court decided to diagram some of its language. In United States v. Rentz, the court observed that ‘Few statutes have proven as enigmatic as 18 U.S.C. §24(c),’ which concerns crimes committed while using a firearm. Puzzling over what the statute’s modifiers mean, the court used the same device some of us learned in grade school—setting out a clear diagram of how words relate to one another grammatically. The court thus reached enough clarity to affirm the district court’s decision. Still, the court stated, ‘Even now plenty of hard questions [about the statute’s meaning] remain.’
My conclusions: 1) The art of diagramming sentences should be revived, and 2) Congress should focus more on clear drafting.
Lawyers Are Poor Drafters, by Judith D. Fischer, Legal Writing Prof Blog
Most lawyers are poor drafters, writes Professor Joseph Kimble of Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. In a recent article, Kimble identifies two key reasons for this: law schools have tended to neglect legal drafting, and lawyers often mimic the antiquated language in form books and poorly drafted statutes. To illustrate the problem, Kimble offers a court order prepared by lawyers and judges at a recent symposium. Displaying the order and his revised version side by side, he points out, among other things, that the original has 125 words more than the revision; the original includes several legalese phrases, such as pursuant to; and the original includes unnecessary cross-references. For his full analysis, see You Think Lawyers Are Good Drafters? in the autumn 2014 issue of The Green Bag.
Controlling Crowded Sentences, by Judith D. Fischer, Legal Writing Prof, Legal Writing Prof Blog
In his recent article Controlling Crowded Sentences, rhetorician George Gopen shows how to make Gopen the most of stress positions. He starts with a sample thirty-six word sentence and then revises it six different ways. Some revisions are a bit longer than the original, but Gopen emphasizes that ‘I do not hold with those who advise ‘to make it better, make it shorter.’ Each revision has a different purpose: one places a person in a subordinate role, and another builds empathy for her. The article appeared in the spring 2014 issue of Litigation.