Legal Writing

You want to know what the future of law entails for you? Probably not much. You do the same crap everyone else does. You’re some run-of-the-mill commercial litigator, or you write the same wills as every other estate planning lawyer, or you’re an “aggressive” and “caring” and “passionate” criminal-defense lawyer that will “fight for your rights.”

It’s all garbage. You don’t matter. You compete on price and spend your day wondering what works better — pay-per-click, or your Facebook Fan Page. You’ll pay the bills and get a nice case every so often, but you’re just another lawyer wondering why the world hasn’t lined up to hire you.

The future of law is specialization. I’m not just talking about “niche” practices, I’m talking about specialization within your practice. I’m talking about being a resource in your practice area, or knowing more about a specific issue than the others. And yes, I have examples, calm down, I’ll lay this out for you in simple, easy terms that you can understand. Maybe you can even put some of this to work in the middle of contemplating your miserable life as a lawyer….

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* A study finds that over 93 percent of attorneys, judges, and legal writing professors think the writing they’re reading is bad. One could argue this is evidence of a crisis in writing skills. Or one could argue that lawyers are a**holes who think every voice other than their own is wrong. It’s a 50/50 shot. [Associates Mind]

* If you ever wondered how many OSHA violations one could find with Jabba’s Palace, wonder no more. [Legal Geeks]

* Are you scared of Obamacare? Here’s a roundup of your official survival guides! [The New Republic]

* If you’re trying to enter the United States, border agents can seize your electronics and look at all your private files because you need to respect their authoritah! [Forbes]

* Joseph Kennedy Jr. died helping to invent drones. OMG, you guys! The drone war is the final stage of the Kennedy family’s long-term liberal plan for world domination. [io9]

* Senator Menendez has hired McDermott Will & Emery and Perkins Coie to conduct spin control now that he’s getting flak for privately funded air travel and hooker allegations. See what you can do with your law degree! [The BLT: The Blog of the Legal Times]

* Avvo is expanding their legal rating service into a full research tool to allow potential clients to pick out lawyers. So you’d better get in good with Avvo now. [Avvo]

* Now here’s a trick — watch Magic Circle lawyers disappear! Pepper Hamilton, now led by Louis Freeh, lures Linklaters lawyers to its ranks. [Thompson Reuters News & Insight]

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski at Yale Law School

Last week, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski paid a visit to Yale Law School, where he made two public appearances. He had a Charlie Rose-style conversation with Noah Messing, YLS’s Lecturer in the Practice of Law and Legal Writing, and then he did an event with the Federalist Society, moderated by a current student, Jon Fougner.

Let’s hear what His Honor had to say, about a wide range of topics — his favorite opinion of his, tips for getting ahead in the legal profession, advocates who have impressed him over the years, why you shouldn’t take your mother to your oral argument, and why you should read Playboy (hint: it’s not for the articles)….

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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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What was the most anxiety-ridden ten minutes I’ve experienced under an editor’s gaze?

I had finished the manuscript of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. My then-15-year-old son, Jeremy (who, like any teenager, would as soon spit in his father’s eye as praise him), said: “So, Dad, you wrote a book, huh?”

“Yes, Jere.”

Long pause. “Let me see the first chapter.”

I knew exactly what the kid was thinking: “I guess, if my Dad wrote a book, I should take a look. But this is going to be unbearable. So I’ll read a few pages and be done with it.”

Jeremy sat in the family room reading chapter one. I paced anxiously in the kitchen. My wife didn’t understand my anxiety: “Why are you so nervous? It’s only Jeremy.”

“Don’t you see? Jeremy’s my first truly neutral reader. He’s not a lawyer. He’s not inclined to read the thing. He won’t cut me any breaks. If Jeremy likes it, there’s a chance there’s actually an audience for this thing.”

After a few more anxiety-ridden minutes, Jeremy walked into the kitchen. After a seemingly endless pause: “Let me see chapter two….”

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Here is an excerpt from Manhertz v. State, handed down on October 9 by the Georgia Court of Appeals:

Specifically, Joyner explained that she met a dancer at a strip club, who went by the stage name Paradise. After a brief conversation, Paradise asked Joyner how she was employed, and Joyner informed her that she worked as an assistant manager at an apartment complex. Paradise responded by informing Joyner that she had a friend named Kane, who would pay $1,000 for tenants’ names, social-security numbers, driver’s-license numbers, and copies of signed checks. Joyner agreed to do so and later provided Paradise with the requested information. However, Joyner asserted that she was never paid any money. And although Joyner claimed that she went back to the strip club on one or two occasions in an attempt to collect the promised payment, she was unable to find Paradise — no doubt finding little comfort in the axiom that “solitude sometimes is best society.” [FN2]

Keep reading for the fun footnote….

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Ed. note: This is the first installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, for the benefit of newly arrived (or soon-to-arrive) first-year associates, we have some advice from Ross Guberman on writing for the toughest audience they’ll ever face.

With the help of many clients, I recently surveyed thousands of law-firm partners about the writing skills they want to see associates develop.

Across the country and across practice areas, partners agree on what they’d like to change about associate drafts. I’ve organized their responses according to my Four Steps to Standout Legal Writing. I’ve also included a fifth category that covers usage and mechanics.

A few sample responses follow.

Step One: Concision

Partners say they spend too much time cutting clutter and other distractions from associate drafts. Anything that interrupts the message — wordy phrases, jargon, legalese, redundancy, blather, hyperbole — is a candidate for the chopping block.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

What a weird situation…. [But Justice Scalia] is an incredible game player, using intellectual honesty as a trope, and that is the kind of thing that David Wallace would just love.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, the successful writer turned lawyer and legal commentator, on the surprising friendship between her close friend, David Foster Wallace, and Justice Antonin Scalia.

(The background behind Justice Scalia’s interest in Wallace, after the jump.)

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In case you’re wondering, there was no major news out of the U.S. Supreme Court this morning. Our friends at SCOTUSblog predict that opinions in the marquee cases, such as the Arizona immigration case and the health care reform case (aka Obamacare), will be issued next week. (Above the Law’s own Supreme Court correspondent, Matt Kaiser, should have a more detailed write-up of this morning’s proceedings later today.)

But we do have some SCOTUS-related news to mention this morning (and not just the latest in law clerk hiring). Did you know that Justice Antonin Scalia has a new book out, hitting stores tomorrow?

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Laurence Silberman

Here, both parties abandoned any attempt to write in plain English, instead abbreviating every conceivable agency and statute involved, familiar or not, and littering their briefs with references to ‘SNF,’ ‘HLW,’ ‘NWF,’ ‘NWPA,’ and ‘BRC’…

– Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, writing for the D.C. Circuit, in a footnote lamenting the litigants’ in National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. United States Department of Energy overuse of alphabet soup.

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