Bryan Garner

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace died six years ago today, on September 12, 2008. The author of novels such as Infinite Jest, The Pale King, and essay collections such as A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again hanged himself in the garage of his California home. DFW was 46.
David Foster Wallace was a lawyer’s writer, if ever one could use that label without intending insult. DFW was not a lawyer, though he famously became friends and collaborators with legal writing expert Bryan Garner. Garner’s co-author Justice Antonin Scalia is also said to be a fan. Countless attorneys who haven’t cracked a novel in years will brighten at the mention of DFW. Analytical, language-obsessed, and neurotic, he may have captured the modus operandi of many lawyers as well as any novelist or essayist could.

David Foster Wallace, especially for a fiction writer, was logical, analytical. He never quite left behind the mindset of the analytic philosophy student he once was. Wallace’s senior thesis in modal logic was published posthumously. His senior thesis in English became his first published novel, The Broom of the System. He wrote lit for STEM geeks and logic nerds . . . including the many STEM geeks and logic nerds who later ended up in law. (Myself included.)

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Bryan A. Garner

This May, Thomson Reuters published the tenth edition of the estimable Black’s Law Dictionary (affiliate link). The most widely cited legal book in the world, Black’s is a must-have for every lawyer and law student.

Henry Campbell Black published the first edition in 1891. Starting with the publication of the seventh edition in 1995, Black’s has been edited by Professor Bryan A. Garner, the noted lexicographer, legal-writing expert, and author of such books as Garner’s Modern American Usage, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (the last two co-authored with Justice Antonin Scalia (affiliate links)).

I met with Garner during his recent visit to New York, where he taught his famous legal-writing course to various law firms and government employers. His voice was hoarse from a summer cold, but he generously soldiered through an interview with the help of some tea. Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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Judge Richard Posner isn’t amused.

Please convey my congratulations to Bryan Garner on inventing a new form of arbitration. Two parties have a dispute; one appoints an arbitrator to resolve the dispute; the other disputant is not consulted. How beautifully that simplifies arbitration! No need for the parties to agree on an arbitrator, or for the American Arbitration Association to list possible arbitrators and the disputants cross out the ones they don’t like.

– Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, in response to the latest barb dealt in his long-running dispute with Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court. In June 2012, Bryan Garner co-authored Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (affiliate link) with Scalia, and Posner criticized it for “misrepresent[ing] case rationales.” Garner recently hired Keker & Van Nest partner Steven Hirsch to evaluate those criticisms, saying he wanted an “objective third party.” Posner wasn’t particularly impressed.

* When you think of professions likely to be menaced by armed maniacs, you don’t think of veterinarians. You’d be wrong. [Legal Juice]

* Robert Ambrogi talks with Bryan Garner about the latest edition of Black’s Law Dictionary, including the fact that three new terms coined by David Lat made this edition. Let’s start the campaign for Appellageddon and SCOTocaplypse for next time around! [Robert Ambrogi's LawSites]

* The ABA has appointed an all-star panel to study law school financing. By “all-star” they mean “all the people responsible for the status quo.” That’s how you do “reform,” guys. [Lawyers, Guns & Money]

* A photo essay of people breaking the stupid laws on the books in various states. [The Phoblographer]

* Law professors making a difference in the real world. Specifically, pushing the anti-smoking message. [PR Log]

* A Seattle attorney pleads to 5 counts of third-degree rape to avoid trial over attacks on a series of massage therapists. He says he’s just a sex addict. The government says he was “kicking in doors, and pulling knives on them.” That sounds pretty extreme for a sex addiction. [Seattle Times]

* Check out Elie talking about the ATL Top 50 Rankings, after the jump… [Mimesis Law]

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* D.C. litigator Bruce Klores is living a double life as a Grilled Cheese restaurateur. He’s planning some politically-themed sandwiches, like the Boehner: “maybe if someone orders it, we’ll just say no.” [Washington Post]

* Bryan Garner took to Twitter to announce that three neologisms by David Lat are joining Black’s Law Dictionary (affiliate link). Check out which terms made the cut for the 10th edition. [Twitter]

* Oklahoma is chasing its proposal to ban all marriage with a bill to issue tickets electronically. Where’s the human touch of being harassed by the cops? [Overlawyered]

* Here are the best suitcases for an overnight business trip. [Corporette]

* We already pointed out that Quentin Tarantino is heading to court over the leaked script to The Hateful Eight. Here’s a quick rundown of the complaint. [IT-Lex]

* A riveting account, by lawyer turned journalist Adam Teicholz, of the brutal murder that shook the gay community in a small Louisiana town. [Vanity Fair]

* Crude oil is transported by rail, and those railroads have safety regulations. [Breaking Energy]

* RIP Pete Seeger. I know he was a folk singer rather than a lawyer, but he wrote a song called “New York J-D Blues,” which sums up Biglaw in this town. [Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]

I’m that kind of guy.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, explaining that when compromise was necessary while working on Reading Law (affiliate link), the book he co-authored with Bryan Garner, the jurist was usually the one to give in.

Judge Richard KopfBurn anything that Bryan Garner has written. He really knows his stuff, but Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style said it all. Besides, Garner, Scalia, and Posner pissed me off when they got into a juvenile cat fight over a book about rules. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am the only one who is permitted to act like a spoiled brat.

– Senior Judge Richard George Kopf of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska issued this bold declaration in a blog post.

(For the record, Judge Kopf is permitted to act like a spoiled brat all he wants in our book.)

Bryan Garner

How old is “bench slap”? Should I put it in Black’s Law Dictionary? How would you define it?

– Legal writing guru Bryan Garner, editor of Black’s Law Dictionary and co-author (with Justice Scalia) of Reading Law (affiliate links), asking on Twitter about a possible addition to Black’s.

(Information about the origins of “benchslap,” after the jump.)

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Federal judges don’t always tell lawyers that their writing is crap, but when they do, they’ll do it in a publicly filed court order. Because while judges have got many a tool in their benchslapping arsenal, a public shaming is perhaps the most useful of them all.

Today’s instance of public shaming comes to us courtesy of Judge Steven Merryday (M.D. Fla.), the same fellow who denied a motion to suspend trial in a death penalty case from an attorney who wanted to participate in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.

Let’s jump right in and see what happened, because this judge had a field day with redlining….

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This past Wednesday, Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit delivered the Madison Lecture on Judicial Engagement at Columbia Law School. The lecture series, sponsored by the CLS chapter of the Federalist Society, brings distinguished jurists to Columbia to discuss topics relevant to the federal judiciary and the administration of justice.

(Perhaps we should put “at” Columbia Law in quotation marks; Judge Posner actually appeared via video conference. That shouldn’t surprise, coming from a judge who lists The Matrix as one of his favorite films.)

In his talk, entitled “How I Interpret Statutes and the Constitution,” Judge Posner was his usual candid self. He offered commentary on two recent books about statutory and constitutional interpretation — books that he’s not a fan of.

Yes, readers. There will be benchslaps….

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