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Legal Writing Doesn't Have to Be Boring

Lawyers often look outside the law for examples of good writing, and there's a reason for that.

Few attorneys, if any, have gone on to Pulitzer or Nobel fame for writing. That includes Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, and John Grisham.

But occasionally you may discover a clear, persuasive and importantly -- not boring -- legal writer. Here are a couple to follow, and they're still working in the law.

Bedsworth -- Yes

William W. Bedsworth is a justice at California's Fourth District Court of Appeal. Along with Judge Bruce Selya of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, he is one of the most interesting writers in the law. Judge Alex Kozinski used to be on the list, but, uh, he retired.

What makes Bedsworth exceptional is his sense of humor, which he translates so well into writing. If he tells a joke in person, something gets lost in the translation....

Kidding aside, if you haven't read his "Criminal Waste of Space," you are missing a good laugh and a good lesson in writing. Legal writing does not have to be boring.

Bryan Garner, writing for the ABA Journal, put it this way: "Most expository prose in law is pretty darned dreary."

Boring -- Not

Garner says good writing -- in any forum -- is a product of hard work. A good writer has to care enough to make it work.

Style, content, and tone are important, but it's ultimately about writing for your audience. Otherwise, it's like talking just to hear yourself talk.

And that's where voice comes in. Legal writers, especially those who write pleadings, motions, declarations and such, have to remember to whom they're talking.

"Most legal writers should aspire to sound like the voice of reason," says Garner.

Whatever you do, don't use writing to yell, talk down to or mislead a judge. But it's a good idea to perk up your prose because you certainly don't want to bore your most important readers.

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