LawProse Lesson 389: Are you writing a brief because it’s due?

We hope not. It’s not the best reason to write. We hope you’re writing because you have an argument—or a series of arguments—to make on behalf of a client. You must have something worth communicating. Otherwise, you’d just be filling pages—and what you’d say would probably be forced, vacillating, and only half-true. You’d be doing …

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LawProse Lesson 388: A Prewriting Checklist for Effective Legal Writing.

Many people start writing before they know what they want to say—even before they know precisely what they hope to achieve. The result is typically flabby, disorganized, verbose prose. The best way to produce good writing is to follow a procedure. Until you have lots of experience and self-knowledge as a writer, you can benefit from …

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LawProse Lesson 386: There is no mystery to good legal writing.

You want to write well in law? Not just to write—which any lawyer can do—but to write well. The distinction between writing and writing well is the difference between shooting baskets in your driveway and high-level competitive basketball, between humming tunes and virtuoso vocal performances, between duffers’ rounds of golf and tournament victories. There’s no mystery about how to write effective …

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LawProse Lesson #384: The differences between speech and writing.

Many years ago, Judge Jerome Frank of the Second Circuit wrote that writing is essentially “speech heightened and polished.” Writing is what you would say if you talked ideally. It should be the equivalent of speech at considered leisure. At its best, then, prose is always natural-sounding to the reader’s ear—to the mind’s ear. There are three …

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LawProse Lesson #381: How to write an effective report.

Collect all relevant information, facts, and illustrations.Draft a key sentence—a full sentence—stating your main objectives.Make a list of all major and minor subject headings. Then turn these into full sentences so that you have a propositional outline. Rearrange propositions as necessary.Draft the body of the report as quickly as possible, composing paragraphs in support of …

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LawProse Lesson #379: Seven Questions to Ask When Revising

Have you been utterly truthful?Have you said all you need to say?Have you been appropriately diplomatic and fair?In your opener, have you made your points quickly and clearly?Have you avoided a slow wind-up that unnecessarily postpones the message?In the middle, have you proved your points with specifics?Is the closer fresh-sounding but consistent with what precedes …

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LawProse Lesson 377: Where? The Jenningses’ house or the Reynoldses’ house?

You have friends named Jennings and Reynolds—the Jennings family and the Reynolds family, also known as the Jenningses and the Reynoldses. (Those are the only grammatical plurals for those names.) A large group is having a get-together at the Jenningses’ house. Or is it at the Reynoldses’ house? Either way, it’ll be delightful. Last week, …

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LawProse Lesson 375: Lawyers’ Contributions to the English Language

Few realize just how important lawyers have been to English-language studies. The first English-language dictionary (John Rastell, 1523) was by a lawyer—a law dictionary that antedated the first general dictionary (Robert Cawdrey, 1604) by 81 years. The first dictionaries to cite authorities and stress etymology were likewise by a lawyer (Thomas Blount, 1656, 1670). That …

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