What Law Librarians Really Think About Westlaw Next

In a recent post on the Law Librarian Blog titled “Westlaw Next: Pros and Cons and General Comments from Law Librarians,” Joe Hodnicki details information gathered from an (admittedly) informal survey of law librarians regarding their experience with Westlaw Next.  Hodnicki, County Law Library Director with the Butler County Law Library (OH), writes: “In addition to the … less than stellar general comments, looks like the ‘Cons’ outnumber the ‘Pros’ and do so by highlighting serious search-related flaws.”  Thank you to Mr. Hodnicki and all law librarians involved in the survey for your candor.

Checklists for Legal Writers

In a recent book review titled “The Legal Writer’s Checklist Manifesto” published in Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD published by the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD), Jennifer Murphy Romig details how Atul Gawande’s book “The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right” is applicable to lawyers in the process of legal writing. In “The Checklist Manifesto,” Gawande discusses the use of checklists in aviation, medicine, and construction.

In her book review, Jennifer Murphy Romig writes that these types of checklists are useful for new lawyers to check their work and internalize common stylistic practices of legal writing as well as for experienced legal writers to check their work efficiently and change bad habits. Jennifer Murphy Romig states that the use of checklists in legal writing extends beyond completing assignments as “process-oriented” checklists could help teams of lawyers work together more efficiently and produce a better written product.

Thou Shalt Not Use “Shall” in Legal Writing

In a recent post at Lawyerist.com, “Thy Legal Writing Shall Not Include ‘Shall’“, Andy Mergendahl examines the overuse (and misuse) of “shall” in legal writing. After attending a Bryan Garner legal writing workshop, Mergendahl discovered his intense dislike of the use of “shall” and suggests alternatives to its use in legal writing. Mergendahl writes: “‘Shall,’ due to its multiple meanings, creates ambiguity that greatly increases the likelihood of disputes about what a sentence means. That is exactly what we are paid to avoid.” True. Very true.

“Abraham Lincoln as a Legal Writer”: What modern legal writers can learn from President Lincoln’s “spare, clean” expression

In a recent article entitled “Abraham Lincoln as a Legal Writer” published in the Fall 2010 edition of the Nevada Law Journal, Judith D. Fischer discusses how President Lincoln developed his writing craft despite only one year of formal schooling. Using the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project, the article surveys Lincoln’s court documents, speeches, poetry, and other writings.

Fischer posits that President Lincoln’s legal writing, as well as other writing in office, is remarkable for its lack of legalese. While the use of legalese and jargon was popular, Fischer writes: “Instead of falling into similar habits, Lincoln preferred ‘spare, clean’ expression. His legal documents are remarkably free of legalese, considering the time in which he wrote.”

The full article can be downloaded here.

A Practice Perspective on Effective Legal Writing: Get to the Point, think a “Hemingway-like approach”

A recent article from the Chicago Lawyer Magazine highlights the value of legal writing in law practice and the changing needs in law practice from trial-oriented to disposition-oriented. The article discusses the growing need for skilled legal writers as more and more cases are settled by way of written products (i.e., motions and briefs), rather than in court lawyering (i.e., oral arguments or jury trials).

Everyone in practice knows that more cases settle than go to trial. More and more, these settlements are based on the strength of motions (i.e., effective legal writing). Because the high costs of litigation disincentives going all the way to jury trial, effective legal writing is more critical than ever.

In appellate practice, the appellate courts rely more on well written briefs (the parties’ written appeals to the courts for you non-lawyers out there) to decide the case than the parties’ oral arguments. In fact, more appellate courts are moving towards deciding cases WITHOUT oral argument and ONLY on the written briefs.

In this article, judges recommend that attorneys summarize their case right away and make sure the summary includes the most important points. Judges want a well-organized written product that presents the controlling authority and applies it to the factual situation concisely without inflamatory language or derrogatory comments about the opposing party. The judges even discussed the importance of writing in the active, rather than the passive, voice to clearly communicate.