LawProse Lesson #325: Openers.

LawProse Lesson #325: Openers.


To be highly accomplished at any skill, you must observe others who are accomplished. That’s just the way it is. If you’re not a serious, regular reader—and haven’t been for extended periods in your life—you can’t possibly hope to produce good writing yourself. So for at least 15 minutes a day, read attentively.

The theater is a paradoxical place to go in search of empathy. While the actors are up there, working to make us feel, through their acute particularity, what it is to be human, we are down here, elbow to elbow with fidgeting, gum-chewing, symphonically coughing specimens of our own kind.

Those are the two sentences that begin Alexandra Schwartz’s piece in the current issue of The New Yorker (page 76). The phrasing is exquisite, with its parallelism, and the wording vivid and evocative. Oh, and speaking substantively, the passage states an important truth. Let’s not forget that.

If you want to write well, start by noticing what those who write well do. Become an aficionado of openers. But don’t stop there. Notice how a good opener impels you to read through the end. And start thinking about the techniques that the writer uses throughout to keep your interest up.

If you’re a legal writer, stop yourself from saying that what appears in The New Yorker and other magazines has no applicability to your work. Perhaps you just haven’t realized yet that it does.

Further reading:

  • Bryan A. Garner, The Elements of Legal Style 221–22 (2d ed. 2002).
  • Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 61–64 (2008).

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