Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Writing Resources and Writing Samples

After Evan Schaeffer posted A Collection of Free Online Writing Resources, Carolyn Elefant asked for good writing samples, not just more guides. He obliged (The Illinois Trial Practice Weblog: By Popular Demand, a Writing Sample) with copies of the appellate briefs in a case he lost at trial then won on appeal. (The case involved a hospital's liability an employee's sexual abuse of a psychiatric patient and perjury by hospital witnesses.)


In addition to the writing resources in Evan's post, I suggest our guide, Legal and General Writing Resources.


Not of the resources listed in our guide are on the web -- but I for one still find books helpful and some of you might find a few worth the investment. (You can also visit a library, of course.) My own shelf above my desk includes Garner's Modern American Usage and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, both of which I consult frequently.

Books are also how I have learned (and continue to learn) about writing -- rules, grammar, style, and tips. I think I was in college the first time I read Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (it's a slender book), and I've reread it several times. When I was admitted to the Eleventh Circuit, the court sent a copy, sending as well the message that the judges would like to see well-written briefs. Over the years, I've read other writing books, sometimes cover to cover and sometimes dabbling. Sometimes I've left one in the bathroom -- better to read a page or two of Safire than spend the time looking over one more mail order catalog.

Perhaps more important that reading books about language has been reading well-written material in other contexts. For instance, I may have read Stephen Jay Gould's books because I was interested in evolution and natural history, but I also read them because I enjoyed his writing style -- and by reading them, I developed my own stylistic taste. Lawyers can develop their feel for good writing not just by studying briefs, but by reading good writers in many fields.

The Green Bag's Recommendations

The Green Bag, which calls itself "an entertaining journal of law," not only publishes good original legal writing in each issue, but it also has launched an annual, The Green Bag Almanac and Reader, reprinting or excerpting what its panel deems to be the best legal writing of the previous year. The 2006 volume (the first) included law review articles, book chapters, cases, briefs, and more. A list of all the nominated pieces is at pp. 6-10 of this pdf. Trial lawyers, see especially Opinions & Orders (pp. 6-7) and Briefs & Motions (p. 8).

Our library has many original briefs and many are available online (see our guide), but I often caution people who want to find a brief to copy that that brief could have been written by the worst lawyer in the state -- or a good lawyer when he or she was having a bad day. Winning isn't the only measure. The Green Bag Almanac includes, for instance, Walter Dellinger's amicus brief in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, even though the side it supported lost 8-0.

Email and Blogs

If you like to get tips day by day, you can subscribe to several email lists. For example, Oxford University Press offers Garner's Usage Tip of the Day (entries from Garner's Modern American Usage) and New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Day. There are also several blogs by copy editors discussing language and newspapers. See, e.g., A Capital Idea, whose post today links to several other language blogs.

Web Videos

Bryan Garner has interviewed dozens of judges and a few law professors and practicing lawyers about legal writing. Short video clips are available here. I haven't viewed them all, but the ones I've seen have been very interesting. Who better than judges to tell you what judges like -- or hate -- to see in briefs?

Bryan Garner, by the way, is the author of many books on English usage and legal writing, as well as the editor of the latest two editions of Black's Law Dictionary. Through his company, LawProse, Inc., he offers CLEs around the country.


Finally, for some examples of lawyers getting chewed out for sloppy research and/or bad writing, see Mary Whisner, When Judges Scold Lawyers, 96 Law Libr. J. 169-83 (2005). (This post started with Carolyn's request for good examples, but I can't resist mentioning the other end of the spectrum.)

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Two graphics my mw, one lifted from The Green Bag's website.

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