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Too many lawyers think their writing is good when it really isn’t. Take it from Judge Shapiro (ret.). He’s seen it all too often on the bench. And you have no idea how much of a difference good and bad legal writing makes to a judge. It can mean the difference between winning and losing a case, and at the very least contributes to a judge’s impression of you as a good or bad lawyer.
Legal Editing Pricing
Let Judge Shapiro (ret.) and Edilex Legal Editing show you how good a legal writer you can be with their help. Edilex makes weak writers strong, and strong writers even stronger. It’s only $5/edit. The better you write, the less you pay. If you find an edit that’s provably incorrect according to the standard style manuals, Edilex Legal Editing will double your money back for that edit. If you find an error that Edilex failed to catch, he will pay you $5/uncaught edit. Call or text Edilex today at (312) 782-4615, or email your draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take the Edilex Challenge
Edit the following for form (not style or substance):
In fact, that legal principal was the entire basis for the state Supreme Court’s ruling. The Court rejected the notion that most perspective jurors would exercise preemptory challenges. Jurors disinterested in jury service could excuse themselves irrespective of the affect it would have on other potential jurors.
The state supreme court is located in the state capital building. The amount of cases it handles is staggering. The U.S. Supreme Court, on the other hand, located in the U.S. capitol, handles far less cases. One of it’s most recent was that of Jesus Garcia. Police searched Jesus’s car without a warrant. The court upheld the search based on the “automobile exemption [sic]”.
For the correct answers, watch the video below.
Judge Richard Posner’s 19 anti-lessons
From “Goodbye to the Bluebook,” 53 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1343, 1349-50 (U. Chi. L. Rev. 1986)
Every lesson that students of the English language and teachers of writing seek to instill and that the great writers exemplify is turned on its head in legal writing. Here are some of the anti-lessons that our heavily student-influenced legal culture enforces:
- Use the passive voice as much as possible, to make unclear who is doing what to whom (‘he are asked to overrule Jones v. Smith’).
- Be vague; talk a lot about ‘fairness,’ ‘justice,’ ‘rights,’ ‘activism,’ etc., without defining any of these terms.
- Nominalize a lot, so that it looks as if you’re writing in a technical jargon (e.g., ‘a Fifth Amendment denial of due process claim’ rather than ‘a claim that the state denied due process in violation of the Fifth Amendment’).
- Use a lot of adjectives and adverbs.
- Make your sentences long.
- Be euphemistic (e.g., say not ‘sex discrimination’ but ‘gender-based discrimination,’ not ‘girl’ but ‘minor woman,’ not ‘fired’ but ‘terminated’).
- Use long textual footnotes to make your work hard to follow, and to avoid having to integrate your ideas in a logical structure.
- Use a lot of cross-references–see if you can make the reader spend his time flipping backwards and forwards in your work.
- Qualify everything you say with ‘I think’ or ‘it could be argued’ or ‘it would seem.’ Always heasel. But never acknowledge genuine uncertainty about any proposition you advance; affect certitude.
- Always be stuffy, boring. Avoid contractions, humor (unless heavy-handed), or any other hint of informality. Never say ‘though’ for ‘although’ or ’till’ for ‘until.’ Always use the Latinate form of a word (e.g., elevate for raise). Sound old.
- Banish individuality. Make your writing seem like the work of a committee.
- Be wordy. Repeat points. Include plenty of unnecessary detail. Never go back over your work to eliminate redundant words and sentences.
- Cite authority for every proposition, however obvious; maximize the ratio of citations to pages. Save time and thought by copying string citations (unread) from previous articles or opinions.
- Use legalisms and archaic expressions whether or not there are equivalents in ordinary language. Don’t say that something is within a statute’s reach; say it’s within its ‘ambit.’ Don’t say ‘this case’; say ‘the instant case’ or
‘the case at bar.’ Don’t call an issue ‘new’; call it one ‘of first impression.’ Don’t say a contract is ‘broken’; say it’s ‘breached.’ Never call the parties by their names; call them ‘appellant’ and ‘appellee,’ or, better, ‘plaintiff-appellant’ and ‘defendant-appellee.’ Make the reader think you wrote your piece right after waking up from a 200-year sleep.
- Be abstract, not concrete. Never try to make the reader visualize what he is reading.
- Use clichés (tired metaphors). Don’t say, ‘this law will deter people from speaking out freely’; say it will ‘chill their freedom of speech.’ ‘Chill’ is the accepted cliché for describing the effect of a law that places a burden on free speech or, indeed, any right. Don’t try to find a fresh metaphor.
- Adhere rigidly to every outdated rule of grammar you can find. So never begin a sentence with ‘But’ or ‘And’ or ‘However,’ or end it with a preposition; never split an infinitive (however awkward the alternative); never omit the noun after a demonstrative pronoun; allow no paragraph to have fewer than three sentences; never omit ‘of’ after ‘all’; always use ‘and’ or ‘or’ before the last item in a series; and never use ‘since’ for ‘because’ or ‘while’ for ‘although.’
- Be sure to use lots of unnecessary commas, to slow down or perhaps stupefy the reader. Use lots of italics, hyphens, and compound words (in the German manner)–like ‘rulemaking’ and ‘factfinding’–to confuse and distract.
- Write in a superior, arrogant, dismissive, sarcastic manner. Insinuate that only a fool, or a person untutored in the mysteries of the law, would disagree with you. Make clear that all legal questions have a right and a wrong answer, and that yours is the right answer. Make certitude the test of certainty.
United States v. Torres, 965 F.2d 303, 310 (7th Cir. 1992) (Wood, H., J.):
The government asserts that law schools and law journals “universally frown upon the use of passive voice, but the average writer does not consider this literary construction with such contempt.” Whether or not the average writer is contemptuous of sentences written passively is not the issue. The issue is clarity. Good writers eschew the passive voice not only because a sentence written passively is often not as forceful as a sentence written actively, but more importantly, because sentences written passively are often more ambiguous than those written actively. Agent Guiffre’s sentence poignantly illustrates how a passively written sentence can lead to possible confusion. It is true that the sentence in the affidavit (“the brown paper bag carried by Torres was opened revealing a white powdery substance to the under cover agent”) “certainly doesn’t indicate anybody else” opened the bag, as the district court concluded. It is also true that the sentence obviously does not indicate who, in fact, opened the bag. If one is going to write in the passive, one should at least include all of the necessary prepositional phrases for clarity’s sake-not because law journals and law schools require it.
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