LawProse Lesson 362: One of the Worst Ways to Edit

LawProse Lesson 362: One of the Worst Ways to Edit

Editing well involves close reading.

But this lesson is about bad editing.

One way to edit poorly is to be preoccupied with other things. After all, you’re an important, extremely busy person with many demands on your time. Your billable rate—you think about it often—is quite high, though not everyone in your life understands that. Sometimes you have to remind them.

Over the years, you’ve noticed that judges often don’t seem to get what you’re saying. They’re busy, too, presumably, though they couldn’t conceivably be as busy as you are. The solution, you’ve gathered, is to tell ’em, tell ’em again, and tell ’em again and again. On one of these pages, it’ll finally sink in. That’s your mantra.

So if you’re reviewing a junior colleague’s work—let’s say it’s a motion about the statutory lapse of a leasehold—be sure, at every opportunity, to drive the point home. Your junior keeps omitting the golden phrase that you want to see: and therefore lapsed pursuant to Revised Civil Statute 971.003. Whenever the point comes up about the reasons for the lapse, point out that it’s pursuant to Revised Civil Statute 971.003. Always emphasize that legislative basis for your conclusion. Ah! There it is, again: your junior has written that the lease was not validly perpetuated. So you insert and therefore lapsed pursuant to Revised Civil Statute 971.003.

When you can, let that statutory imperative both begin and end a sentence. Your junior has begun a sentence Under Revised Civil Statute 971.003. Quick. Change under to pursuant to. The middle of the sentence gets to what the lessee was required to do to keep the lease, together with his not doing it, and so you build to the climax (the fifth time on this page!) and therefore lapsed pursuant to Revised Statute 971.003. The judge can’t escape the inevitability of your position and its solid statutory support.

Now you’re in a new paragraph, and you see your junior has written The statute also requires . . . . “The statute?!” What statute? You can’t depend on the reader to know that! Replace it with Revised Statute 971.003 also requires. Yes! Clearly, your junior needs to learn a thing or two about effective briefing.

Two pages on, you get the idea that a judicial reader might be tuning out. But your experience tells you what you must do: use gradations of emphasis. On page seven, you draw a box around your favorite phrase and scrawl in the margin to make it boldface: and therefore lapsed pursuant to Revised Statute 971.003. Right in the middle of the paragraph. They’ll surely notice that.

On page eight, you see the phrase again. You’re going for a subtly flagrant kind of emphasis. Good thing you’re such a student of psychology. Here you draw a box and scrawl in the margin to make the words boldface italic: and therefore lapsed pursuant to Revised Statute 971.003.

Good job. The judges won’t even know what hit them when they suddenly become so convinced.

On page 9—oh, this is good!—you see your favorite phrase once again. You box it and instruct your junior to put it in all-caps boldface italic: AND THEREFORE LAPSED PURSUANT TO REVISED STATUTE 971.003.

How can the judges miss it? They can’t! The conclusion will seem inevitable to them. Next, you toy with the idea of raising the font size for that phraseology.

But your time is short—and really, really valuable. Other clients are clamoring for your attention. At least you had the time to glance over this motion to ensure that your junior wouldn’t neglect to repeat the statutory basis. Oh! You just caught something: your junior has written, in one place you saw as you thumbed back through the motion, “The lessee failed to extend the lease.” You mark it out and make it “The lessee has failed to prevent a lapse pursuant to revised Statute 971.003.” Better! Your junior needs to learn a thing or two about consistent terminology!

You record your time promptly: you spent 15 minutes polishing this brief. Time to move on to other things. You’re really busy, after all—so busy that you can’t justify anything so wasteful as pleasure reading.

In fact, you haven’t engaged in pleasure reading in many years. You bill time for all your reading. It’s not about pleasure. And you don’t care about creating pleasurable experiences for others, either. Well, actually, you don’t know how. If somebody referred to the wingéd chariot of the billable hour, you’d have no idea what they’re talking about.



This sums up the psychological state of one type of incompetent editor. You’ve encountered this senior lawyer before. Just be sure you don’t ever become this type of person, who knows little or nothing about how to connect with readers.

Further reading:

Garner, The Winning Brief 296–306 (3d ed. 2014).

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