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Review: Point Made – Best Legal Writing Book Ever?

 

I’m rather passionate about legal writing. In particular, I’m looking for ways to improve my own. I think my writing is pretty good (I was number one in legal writing in my class for what it’s worth), but I know I have a long way to go to get it to “great.” As such, I follow a number of legal (and non-legal) writing blogs look for advice, tips, and deconstruction of good writing. I also regularly consume books on legal writing and general guides on how to become a better lawyer. One of the books I had been meaning to pick up for some time is Ross Guberman’s Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates, based upon the critical acclaim it has received.

A couple of weeks ago I came into my office to find a book-shaped package from Amazon in my chair. My first thought was that my brother-in-law MBA had sent me a book he thought I should read as he often does. Upon opening, I was surprised to find Point Made. I didn’t think I had mentioned it to him, but it was on my Amazon Wishlist of books to read. Did he see it there? Had I ordered it and forgotten about it?

Upon inspection of the invoice, I find that Mr. Guberman himself sent me a copy of his book. I was quite pleased to have received a copy of a book I was planning on purchasing anyway directly from the author. So, full disclosure, what follows is based upon a free, “review” copy of Mr. Guberman’s book. With that being said, it’s one of the best legal writing books I have ever read. It now sits snugly next to Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner’s Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges on my shelf.

Receiving the book when I did could not have been more fortuitous – I had a lengthy brief to write in support of a petition for a writ of mandamus due shortly. Point Made became a constant companion as I was writing the brief. For those not familiar with Point Made, it does not provide generic advice in regards to legal writing. It does not provide an introduction to legal briefing or describe the IRAC method. Instead, Point Made provides distinct writing techniques to be used in a legal brief, with examples from the writings of some of the top advocates in the nation. For example:

________

Brass Tacks: Explain “who, what when, where, why, how”

“Too often lawyers jump right into the legal nuances of the case without explaining, in clear terms, the legal context in which the case arises. ” -Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

The deeper you are into your litigation, the easier it is to forget what Chief Justice Abrahamson calls the “context in which the case arises.” That’s why so many lawyers’ preliminary statements make you feel as though you’ve been hit over the head with a hammer…

When Attorney General Eric Holder was in private practice at Covington & Burling, he once litigated a high-profile civil case involving bananas, American missionaries, and extortion in Columbia. He and his team started their introduction to a motion to dismiss with a Brass Tacks paragraph telling the court who the parties are, what happened to the plaintiffs, and when and where it happened when they brought their claim, what they want, and why they shouldn’t get it. Holder also squeezes in what the claims are not, highlighting the weakness of the plaintiffs’ case.

Plaintiffs in this action are relatives of five American missionaries who were abducted for ransom and tragically murdered in the mid-1990s by a communist guerilla group in Columbia, known as the Fuerzaz Armadas Revolucionarias de Coumbia. Now, more than a decade later, they seek to hold Chiquita Brands International, Inc. Liable for those deaths under the Antiterrorism Act, and Florida and Nebraska tort law. There is no allegation, however, that Chiquita was involved in the kidnaping and murder of the decedents, that Chiquita intended that these despicable acts occur, or that Chiquita even knew about them until plaintiffs brought this law suit. Instead, plaintiffs allege that Chiquita is liable for decedents’ deaths solely because Chiquita’s former Columbian subsidy made payments extorted by the FARC when this radical Marxist group controlled the remote banana-growing regions of Columbia in which Chiquita’s subsidiary operated.

____________

Point Made is built around such examples. The book is broken into five sections: creating a theme and a compelling introduction (“The Theme”), laying out the facts and crafting a narrative (“The Tale”), structuring your argument (“The Meat”), livening up your style (“The Words”), and crafting a strong conclusion (“The Close”). In each section, Guberman uses examples like the above from some of the best legal writers in the nation to give real world examples of the techniques he describes.

Point Made is not an introductory level book. If you’re not familiar with basic legal writing, you might be better off starting somewhere else. But it might be the best technique oriented legal book I’ve ever read. Where Making Your Case provides what I think is broad, strategical approaches to writing; Point Made is a tactical book. Point Made provides granular-level advice that can immediately be implemented in your writing. I am loathe to come across so effusive in my praise of the book, as to appear biased.  But I can’t help but highly recommend the book, it’s that good. If you want to improve your legal writing, pick up a copy of Point Made.

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Edit: Mike at Crime & Federalism discusses my, and another lawyer’s, review of Point Made at his site. He brings up an ancillary discussion about the current state of writing in general that is worth considering if you’re interested.

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

9 comments

  1. I’m rather passionate about legal writing. In particular, I’m looking for ways to improve my own writing. I think my writing is pretty good (I was number one in legal writing in my class for what it’s worth), but I know I have a long way to go to get my writing to “great.” As such, I follow a number of legal (and non-legal) writing blogs look for advice, tips, and deconstruction of good writing.

    You used the word “writing” seven times in the first four sentences.

    I’m just sayin’.

  2. It’s not at all clear that your review carries a great deal of weight just yet. Maybe you should get some legal writing under your belt, see how it goes, and then tell others what you think. Come back again in ten to twenty years, at which time I will be dying to hear your thoughts on which legal writing book is best.

    • Fair enough as well.

      I wouldn’t expect my opinion on legal writing to carry much weight with anyone with years of practice under their belt. I suppose I could have prefaced my review with “As a new lawyer…” but then I might as well do that with everything I post which would get old rather quickly. I feel as though I’m rather transparent with my recent admission to the Bar and that I am trying to find my way in practice and conduct. For me, and my particular position as a new attorney, I found the book clear, effective, and helpful. In all of the legal writing texts I have read, I hold it up next to Making Your Case in terms of quality.

      As such, I would think law students and other new lawyers who are attempting to refine their legal writing skills might find a review, done by someone in a similar position, to be of value. If it came across as though I was attempting to preach to people as to what they should read, that was not my intent. If that was how it came across, that is a failure on my part as a writer. Which further indicates that A) I have a lot of work to do to improve my writing & B) I need to continue to read books, texts, articles, etc. on writing.

      • Ironically, my thought arose from your very own ideas about new lawyers failing to appreciate their own limitations, and how those limitations should influence their self-assessment and opinions. Your writings on these issues have been very illuminating, largely because you are a new lawyer.

        I just seized the opportunity to poke you in the ribs a bit. As I said before, you are one of the new guys who give me hope that the future of the profession isn’t lost, though I will deny I ever said that to you if anybody asks.

        S

  3. Neil J. Squillante

    Covington & Burling’s opening paragraph gets the job done I suppose, but in a boring, long-winded manner that would put most normal people to sleep. A more talented writer would have avoided the weak verb “to be” in favor of active verbs for greater clarity and impact.

  4. I think you review was a very helpful and while I am not a lawyer, but a police detective, I think that I will purchase this book and enhance my persuasive writing skills. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Richard, I’m glad you found the review useful. While the book is geared towards lawyers, I do think it would be quite useful to anyone who wants to work on their persuasive writing skills.

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