Friday, August 03, 2007

Everything I Need to Know About Legal Writing . . .

. . . I learned--or could have learned--from "Effective Lawyering," a handbook by my colleagues at Southwestern Law School Austen L. Parrish and Dennis T. Yokoyama newly published by Carolina Academic Press. In barely 120 pages, the book provides pithy advice and checklists for composing all kinds of legal argumentation, from legal memoranda and oral arguments to client correspondence and email. Despite its brevity, the book captures subtle but important distinctions in content and tone between trial and appellate briefs, and offers valuable insights into how to write for courts, clients, supervising attorneys and scholarly legal publications.

But the real meat of the book is the first chapter, blandly entitled "Techniques for Effective Legal Writing", that (which?) neatly catalogs all the tics and dithers that make so much legal writing unbearable and explains how to avoid them. For example, the authors caution against using abbreviations and initials to refer to parties or processes in a brief: "Refer to Mercedes-Benz Club of America as Mercedes or the Club, not as MBCA." When I am reading an argument, I always find myself mentally trying to pronounce any acronym I encounter, and I quickly become cranky when it can't be done, as in cases concerning the ACGIH, FMVSS, or even SMTP. On the other hand, sometimes ill-considered (or strategically inspired) acronyms can enliven a dull argument: I sometimes teach a case involving a land-use dispute between Save Our Bay, invariably referred to by its opponent as "SOB", and a Unified Power District of San Diego, which the SOB rather rudely denominated "SDUPD". And an otherwise dry, but important, California personal jurisdiction case involving tainted hamburger meat is made much more entertaining when one of the parties, Washington Restaurant Management, Inc., is routinely referred to as WRMI.

But I digress. "Effective Lawyering" is not a text from which legal writing can be taught, but with its handy checklists and breezy authority it is an excellent refresher for any law student or young (or not so young) attorney taking on a new writing project.

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