LawProse Lesson #420: Clarity of style from clarity of mind

LawProse Lesson #420: Clarity of style from clarity of mind

It’s a truism that a clear writing style comes from a clear mind. The necessary corollary is that unclarity proceeds from a hazy mind, which will inevitably produce an unintelligible jumble.

But this isn’t a prescription for good writing. You can’t just say, “Think more clearly!” and be done with it.

No. People need exercises in precise thinking and lucid utterance. It’s a mental discipline you must practice pretty steadily. Along the way, it’s helpful each day to study good models. The idea is to observe keenly and reason soundly.

Let’s say you’re an associate at a law firm, or a shareholder there, or a government lawyer, or corporate in-house counsel. Let’s say, in short, that you’re a lawyer with any level of experience. You need to practice, whatever your background may be. You might try the 1,000-word theme, which should take you less than an hour.

Suitable subjects are all around you. For narration, write up some incident at home or at the office. For description, describe your office or your home or a single room in your home—in some detail. For exposition, explain the nuts and bolts of your favorite hobby or sport. For argumentation, try writing a newspaper editorial.

Lawyers should master each of the four types of prose composition. We narrate (statements of fact), we describe (situations), we explain (problems), and we argue (solutions). Masterly legal writers do all four with ease—and they’re rare.

So if you want to get ahead in the profession, put yourself on a regimen. Set aside time each day to practice. And consider all your on-the-job writing to be practice. You won’t regret it.

Oh, and come see us soon.

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