LawProse Lesson #414: Why a legal style manual?

LawProse Lesson #414: Why a legal style manual?

A traditional daily newspaper contains about 150,000 words—meaning that the journalists produce the equivalent of a 250-page book every 24 hours. They uniformly follow a style manual to ensure consistency in writing.         

Most law offices of 50–75 lawyers produce that much work every workday as well. Like good journalists, they insist on accuracy and perpetually strive for clarity. And like good journalists, law firms should follow a style manual, which provides a consistent and coherent framework for the daunting task of producing prose that is at once authoritative, accessible, and lively.         

A legal style manual? Yes. After all, professional writing outlets insist on having one. Book publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed. 2017)—for which our founder, Bryan A. Garner, wrote the big chapter on grammar and usage. Legal writers have The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (5th ed. 2023), also by Garner. The purpose of these books is to ensure that the rules of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and usage are consistently followed. (The real rules, not the armchair grammarian’s faux rules.) This gives the writing a polished, professional look—and brings it in line with the best-edited modern prose.         

Did you notice, in the preceding paragraph, that a fifth edition of The Redbook has just appeared? It’s true: it came out last month from West Academic Publishing. One big change with the new edition is a greater reliance on Supreme Court pronouncements about style. For example, on page 1, where the subject of pronunciation is introduced, the Supreme Court is quoted as saying: “[T]he meaning of a statute will typically heed the commands of its punctuation.”

Legal writers have a responsibility to treat the language with respect. The Redbook will help you meet that responsibility. The 700-page book is so well indexed you can find authoritative answers to questions of style within seconds. For more about the new edition, click here.

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