Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2018

Abstract

Over 25 years ago, in his foreword to the first volume of Legal Writing, Chris Rideout nailed it: legal writing as actually practiced by lawyers and judges needs to improve, “[b]ut more fundamental inquiry into legal writing...is needed as well.” The intervening decades have seen many laudable efforts on the latter front, as our collective scholarly discipline, then in its infancy, has matured. But one particular question that Rideout identified remains largely unaddressed by our discipline, although recent developments suggest a welcome increase in attention to the topic. Specifically, Rideout explained that our field did not know as much as we would like about how legal documents are “actually read.” His diagnosis was concise: “Much of the existing literature about legal writing...offer[s] fairly prescriptive advice about organization and style. Very little of this advice, however, is based on research into the ways in which legal documents are actually written or read. Rather, it largely depends upon time-honored, general maxims for writing, translated into the language of legal writing....” As all LRW professors know, legal writing in practice is by its nature often unavoidably complex both substantively and stylistically, making it imperative for the discipline to try to unpack those complexities to suss out what makes legal prose effective. To Rideout, it was “distressing” that we do not know – we in fact “need to know” – such matters as “what a judge responds to stylistically in a brief, or a client in reading an opinion letter, a will, or a contract.”


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