It’s no secret that I am a fan (and friend) of Ross Guberman, author of Point Made: How To Write Like The Nation’s Top Advocates. As I state in my review, it is one of the best legal writing book I’ve read. I enjoy it particularly for its narrow focus on tactical techniques to improve one’s writing, along with numerous examples of such tactics from some of the nation’s best lawyers.
Guberman has also long had a website and blog, but they are updated infrequently. Yet in the past couple of days, Guberman has put up two excellent posts that I wanted to highlight. If you want to improve your writing, it’s worth your time to read these posts. Here they are, with some brief excerpts:
The Seven Writing Strategies of Highly Effective Trial Judges
Lighten Up: Replace Stale, Stodgy Language with Short, Fresh Words
So much of what makes for great style comes down to a micro-level struggle to find short, punchy language for long-winded, abstract thoughts. In the passage above, for instance, rather than “But the addendum Jackson admits using,” Goldgar could have written “However, the addendum Jackson admits using,” yet that would have dragged the sentence down. And elsewhere, he could have written “Additionally, the responsibilities of the attorney were not limited to those specified,” but instead he began with “Nor were the responsibilities of the attorney limited to those specified.” Light is right.
Throughout his opinion, in fact, I spot a love for crisp language and an aversion to the bureaucratic clichés that mar so much legal writing.
Here’s my Goldgar-gleaned ten-tip cheat sheet:
1. After, not “subsequent to”
After the December 2010 show cause order suggested his conduct was sanctionable . . .
2. Also, not “moreover” or “additionally”
The addendum also stated that it was “retroactive to cover . . .
3. As for, not “with respect to” or “with regard to” or “regarding”
As for Jackson’s claimed lack of intent to mislead, the test under Rule 9011 is objective, not subjective.
4. Even if, not “even assuming” or “assuming arguendo”
Even if Lanner had been knowledgeable on these subjects, moreover, and even if he had advised Jackson about the veracity of the fee applications . . .
5. Here, not “in the instant case” or “in the present case”
The equitable considerations here point to a severe sanction.
(To avoid dragging the sentence down, put “here” near the verb as Goldgar does, not at the beginning of the sentence.)
Tactical Writing Skills – Bridge to Somewhere: Better Flow for Busy Lawyers
Thurgood Marshall, Brief for Brown in Brown v. Board of Education:
While the State of Kansas has undoubted power to confer benefits or impose disabilities upon selected groups of citizens in the normal execution of governmental functions, it must conform to constitutional standards in the exercise of this authority. These standards may be generally characterized as a requirement that the state’s action be reasonable. Reasonableness in a constitutional sense is determined by examining the action of the state to discover whether the distinctions or restrictions in issue are in fact based upon real differences pertinent to a lawful legislative objective.
When the distinctions imposed are based upon race and color alone . . .
Marshall’s sentences, and not just the paragraphs, feature smooth, bridge-like transitions: “standard . . . standards,” “reasonable . . . reasonableness.”
Improving your writing means getting better at the sentence and word level.