How to Avoid Sexism in Legal Writing: A Pronoun Primer

Good legal writers should write in such a way that no one could call sexist, but also appears totally natural and not contrived. Bryan Garner recommends that legal writers adopt a style that “no reasonable person could call sexist [and that] never suggests that you’re contorting your language to be nonsexist.” In Modern American Usage, Garner suggests three solutions to the “Pronoun Problem“:

  1. Alternate your use of masculine pronouns he, him, or himself, and feminine pronouns she, her, or herself. After all, that’s what the Supreme Court Justices do.
  2. Use pronouns pairs like he or she and his or her.
  3. Avoid the pronoun problem by:
  • Deleting the pronoun
  • Changing the pronoun to an article like a(n) or the
  • Pluralizing the sentence so that he becomes they
  • Substitute the relative pronoun who for he or she
  • Repeating the antecedent noun making the pronoun unnecessary

What NOT to do – avoid the “slants.” What is a “slant”? According to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, a “slant has no place in good English.”  The slant is a nonword that combines the pronouns: s/he, he/she, she/he, s/he/it (really?).

For more, read “Avoiding Sexism in Legal Writing – The Pronoun Problem” here.


Exercise for Writing Gains, Not Just for Weight Loss

Exercise isn’t just for weight loss. We all know that there are many benefits to regular exercise such as stress reduction, weight loss, increased energy, and many other health benefits.

Exercise can also immediately and positively effect your thinking and writing. Ben Opipari of Persuasive Matters wrote an article for Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing about the history and research of exercise benefits on writing.  Opipari describes a rich history of famous writers who used exercise to either compose and draft or revise and edit. He also reviews the neuroscience behind the connection between exercise and good writing.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), called “Miracle-Gro for the Brain” by researchers, is a protein that acts on neurons in the brain to facilitate the growth of new neurons and survival of existing neurons. Scientists have discovered that this protein has a direct effect on learning and thinking. BDNF is released when you exercise. When the oxygen level increases in your brain during and after you exercise, you become sharper mentally. As a result, the more you exercise, the more you will think and write clearly.

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To Practicing Attorneys: Stop Writing Law Review Articles, Steer Clear of Pedantry and Mystification

Is the Law Review dead? Many think it is. Or, that it is dying. According to Walter Olson of The Atlantic on the subject of law reviews: “They’re outdated, impractical, and slowly dying. It’s time to put them to rest.”

Let’s just be honest – we just don’t have the attention span for law review articles anymore. The trend for legal scholarship is shorter, timelier discussions that people actually read like blogs and other short-form online publications. According to Olson, “[a]s online law writing has taken off, readers are rewarding qualities like clarity, concision, relevance, and wit, and steering clear of pedantry and mystification.” Here, here, Mr. Olson.

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Brief or Comic Book? Which Would You Prefer To Read

When a judge told Bob Kohn that he had to whittle his 55-page amicus brief down to 5 pages, Bob Kohn did not despair. He complied in comic book form.

With the help of his daughter’s friends, Kohn was able to not only reduce his 55-page amicus brief down to the required 5 pages, but also to comply with the court’s formatting rules (mostly). I have previously posted about the increasing usage and utility of images in briefs. Maybe comic book or graphic art briefs are the next logical step. Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?



#1 Secret of Great Writers: Rewriting

Good writing means rewriting and lots of it. Good writing requires many “writing” steps: outlining, drafting, revising, rewriting, editing, proofreading. Unfortunately, many harried legal practitioners simply do not have time for multiple steps in the writing process beyond drafting and proofing. For some, “writing” is simply drafting and submitting.

Great writers aren’t great because they write the right words the first time. Good writers don’t rewrite or revise because they made mistakes in the first version. These writers rewrite because it is the rewriting process itself that transforms good (or less than good) writing into excellent writing. Rewriting is not a punishment or a reprimand, it is an essential part of the entire writing process.

Great writers are great because they rewrite, sometimes again and again until the words are right.

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