Models of great legal writing

I recently reread Brian Garner’s oft-repeated advice on improving legal writing in an ABA article. The point: to be a good legal writer, you need to read good legal writing. Thankfully, Garner points to a few sources of such writing.

New to me was The Green Bag. Garner:

Here you’ll find some of the best, most interesting legal scholarship to be found anywhere. It’s a law review that defies most law-review conventions. Your subscription will get you not just a quarterly journal at a reasonable cost, but also a yearly almanac of good writing.

You can even access most of the journal’s articles from past issues online.

For “astoundingly good” briefs, Garner recommends anything from the Office of the Solicitor General. Also, anything you can find by Walter Dellinger, Clifton Elgarten, Miguel Estrada, Theodore B. Olson, Evan M. Tager, or Charles Alan Wright.

Sadly, Garner has fewer sources for good legal memos, motions, and contracts. I’ll recommend a couple places to start.

First, the Curmudgeon’s advice on writing a memo (pdf):

When you are writing a legal memorandum for internal use, there is only one proper way to discuss a case. This is the way:

In Smith v. Jones,

1. Somebody sued somebody for something.

2. The trial court held something. (The trial court did not “discuss” something or “analyze” something or “believe” something; it held something. Ordinarily, a trial court grants or denies a motion, or enters a judgment. Use the proper verb to describe the holding.)

3. The appellate court held something. (Ordinarily, an appellate court will affirm, reverse, vacate, or remand. Use the proper verb to describe the holding.)

4. Now, you can say anything else about the case that you care to.

Second, Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. Check out his sample documents for tips on formatting captions, motions, research memos, and contracts. For a great example of a concise contract, look at his font license (pdf).

Perfectionism

I wrote an article on perfectionism for the Young Lawyers Division newsletter earlier this year. After starting my new job at the State Bar as an editor, a colleague asked me to update it for the bar-wide newsletter, Inside Track. It’s published now, and you can read it here.

What I wrote was mostly self-reflection. I’ve had good feedback on it so far—perhaps because lawyers, as a whole, aren’t very open about their own struggles or emotions. In fact, my colleague took care to confirm that I felt comfortable exposing my piece to a broader audience. (I appreciated the thought, though I wouldn’t have submitted the article in the first place if I were worried about that sort of thing.)

As an editor at a state bar, my work focuses on communicating useful technical knowledge to lawyers. Our primary business is publishing books about the law and law practice. Sometimes, though, we all need a different kind of knowledge—the knowledge that others deal with the same fears and foibles as us. I’m thankful for that reminder.

Resources

I like to collect information—especially useful information. In my time as a law student and young lawyer, I’ve discovered a good deal of useful things for people like me on the Internet. I’d like to share them; I’d like to develop a nice, curated list of resources that will prove how knowledgeable and useful I can be.

I’d like to, but Keith Lee over at Associate’s Mind beat me to the punch. I only recently discovered this resource, and it’s great. You should check it out.

A few gems that were new to me:

  • Ten Minute Mentor from the Texas State Bar. I never knew this existed before, but what a great idea. Short videos of advice from practicing attorneys.
  • Overlawyered. Apparently the oldest running law blog, somehow I hadn’t come across it until now.
  • Yale Law School career guides. When it comes to the various paths a lawyer’s career might take, you can’t have too much detail.

Perhaps, in the future, I will post about specific resources in more depth.