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Plain English for Lawyers: 'Exactly What You Are Supposed to Do'

Plainenglish A flurry of posts in the blogosphere last week provided a great reminder for young lawyers about legal writing: Just say it. In Plain English.

The recent posts on this subject were sparked by author and innovator Seth Godin, who wrote here that "the problem with just about every lame speech, every overlooked memo, every worthless bit of boilerplate foisted on the world" is that people love to write, talk and bullet without really saying anything. Take the following example, he says:

The firm will remain competitive in the constantly changing market for defense legal services by creating and implementing innovative and effective methods of providing cost-effective, quality representation and services for our clients

Work harder to think of something important to say, Godin argues. Otherwise, he says, it is better to "write nothing" at all.

Following up on this, Peter Friedman, associate professor of legal analysis and writing at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, writes on the Geniocity blog about one of the first briefs he ever wrote as a young associate, and the partner's response to him. The partner asked Friedman to put the brief aside and tell the partner in plain English why their client should prevail. After Friedman sputtered out his explanation, the partner asked,

"Then why didn’t you just say that?" I blinked, and asked in stupid amazement, "I can do that?" He laughed, and answered, "That’s exactly what you are supposed to do." Wow, just explain in plain English, without resort to legalistic rules and long chains of reasoning from premises established by Lord Blackstone? What an amazing idea, and what a truly difficult one to grasp.

Finally, on this same point, the Lawyerist summarizes things this way: "Say what you want to say. Do not imply it, do not hint at it, just say it."

It takes some rewiring for young lawyers who have been subjected to three years of dusty, legalistic court opinions to learn (re-learn?) to write in this way, but I believe that the advice offered to young lawyers in these posts is very solid.

Posted by Bruce Carton on June 14, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)


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