Writing to Win: The Legal Writer.
Steven D. Stark's new book, Writing to Win--The Legal Writer, belongs next to your easy chair at home. It's a book you'll want to sit down with and read. It doesn't belong in your office, next to your desk. It doesn't even pretend to be a work of reference. So if you're having trouble figuring out whether the past participle of "plead" is "pleaded" or "pled," or whether you can start sentences with conjunctions, you'll have to look elsewhere.
Stark ranks as one of the country's leading authorities in the field of effective legal writing. A graduate of Yale Law School, he lectured at Harvard Law School for 12 years, teaching upper-level courses on legal writing. He has also taught writing in seminars to thousands of lawyers across the country.
If Writing to Win has a weakness--all books do--it's probably found in the slim treatment given to writing style. About all we get is traditional advice on using strong verbs, writing with short words, shortening sentences, and avoiding the passive voice. Pretty standard stuff. It's as if the author felt he had to have something on style, so he added a small chapter, maybe to satisfy an editor. This weakness, however, is the outweighed by the strength of the book.
The strength of Writing to Win lies in the perspective the reader gains both on the process of legal writing and its various genres. Perspective becomes clear through Stark's use of real-world examples. Many come from actual cases. When he urges writers to grab the reader's attention by starting with the conclusion, he illustrates how many lawyers stub their toes right from the beginning. These first few sentences of a brief to the Fifth Circuit surely won't rival the opening sketch in the latest
James Bond flick:
Appellee initially filed a motion to strike appendices to brief for appellant on July 22,1983. Appellant filed a brief in response, which appellee replied to. Appellant has subsequently filed another brief on this motion, Appellant's Reply to Appellee's Brief in Response to Appellee's Motion to Strike Appendices to Brief for Appellant (appellant's most recent brief), to which the appellee herein responds.
And when Stark urges writers to use short words, he illustrates the point with short words from Justice Robert Jackson's dissent in Knauff v. Shaughnessy: "Now this AmeriCan citizen is told he cannot bring his wife to the United States but he will not be told why. He must abandon his bride to live in his own country or forsake his country to live with his bride."
Perspective becomes broad through Stark's use of ideas from other professions. One set of ideas is right on the money, though the suggestion might not sit well with many members of the legal profession: Stark urges us to mimic the writers of advertisements. That's right. On page 64, Writing to Win sets out the "four principles of advertising all lawyers must know." When you purchase a copy of this book and read it, you'll learn that advertising theorist Rosser Reeves and Harvard Law School professor David Rosenberg both preached the same message: Distill your case down to a two-sentence statement. Reeves would call it "the unique selling proposition"; Rosenberg, "the core of your case."
In the section on the art of storytelling, Stark begins his discussion with an actual article from the New York Times. "Casey Bathelmess, 80 years old, once a bronco buster and a cowpoke, shifted on his crutches outside the depot. He tried to sound uninterested in what had happened."
The reader is captivated from the opening sentence--in much the same way a judge should be with the opening sentence of a brief or motion. "Think of yourself as a storyteller," Stark advises. "Write about people," he admonishes. "Plot is overrated," he reminds. "Create word pictures that make the story come alive," he nudges.
And he follows his own advice. When instructing us to "write about people," Stark relates "the story of a Maryland lawyer who kept calling the defendant by his first name, Bobby. When the jury came back, the foreman announced, `We find Bobby not guilty.'" When discussing the use of word pictures, he delves into the thoughts of Hemingway and the techniques of Fitzgerald. When encouraging us to distill the theory of the case down to a two-sentence ad-copy slogan, he quotes the brief by Alexander Bickel in the Pentagon Papers case: "A criminal statute chills. The prior restraint freezes."
More than half of Writing to Win deals with various legal genres. Separate chapters teach us how to write facts, arguments, trial and appellate briefs, complaints and answers, discovery, technical documents, memos, letters and e-mail, contracts and rules. Separate treatment of these various types of writing sets the book apart from most others in its field. Each chapter lists a set of rules--for example, "The Fourteen Rules on Technical Writing"--each with discussion and the ever-present examples.
This is not the stuff of law school training in the art of legal writing. And that's what makes it so good.
C. Edward Good is counsel and writer-in-residence at the intellectual property firm of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner in Washington, D.C.
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|Author:||Good, C. Edward|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2000|
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