Professor Joseph Kimble, a tireless advocate for plain language in all forms of legal writing, contributes a regular column to the Michigan Bar Journal. In this month’s column, Kimble has law reviews in his sights. So, if you made it onto law review, this one is for you. But don’t stop reading if you haven’t made it onto law review (yet) as the column makes important points about legal writing in an entertaining way and provides a useful introduction to Kimble’s work as a whole.
His fundamental point is that lawyers don’t write and so don’t communicate effectively because we “cling to habits and practices that have been criticized, not to say ridiculed for centuries.” We persist in using legalese because we “continue to think this style is effective, impressive, perfectly comprehensible, and necessary for legal precision…”
And he’s right. Legalese is a social and cultural practice; an acquired and learned (bad) habit passed from generation to generation. From a critical perspective, it’s a means of legitimizing the social role of lawyers and the expert status of our profession (only we can read the runes). It persists in transactional practice because words and phrases in legal instruments tend to acquire magical power through customary usage over time (we are trained to believe that if we don’t use the old mumbo jumbo the court will think we didn’t mean what the mumbo jumbo is supposed to convey). We are a superstitious lot.
One example is a tendency, much criticized by Ken Adams, for drafters to use the phrase “represents and warrants” as a formula for introducing statements of fact in a contract. But I digress.
I hope that Kimble’s waspish advice on how to write effective law review articles will spark a revolution in style in this form of legal literature. It should inspire those of us working in the genre to find our own voice and to always have the reader in mind.
For other great resources I stumbled across while writing this post follow this link.
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When I started the experiment that is the Walters Way, I tried to articulate what might be described as a mission statement. To be honest, I was initially a bit reluctant to publish any “goals” for fear that I would come across as self-important and/or pious. And I was worried a bit (still am?) about hostages to fortune. Anyway, enough about my hang ups.
One of my stated goals at the outset was, and I quote, “to help aspiring lawyers understand the rapidly changing ‘real world’ of legal services and legal practice and the survival skills that are now needed to flourish in that space”. This was motivated by two concerns that, in my view, have tended to become mutually self-reinforcing (a perfect storm??).
- First, I’m concerned about the structural and economic issues facing law schools and the legal profession. Too many law graduates chasing too few entry-level law firm jobs. Structural changes in the delivery of legal services. High student debt burdens that may serve to restrict public access to legal services. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the conventional wisdom on all this but for a useful recent synthesis of said conventional wisdom, try this March 2013 report from the Illinois State Bar Association.
- Second, I’m concerned that the lived realities of law school, the law and the legal profession can break the spirit of passionate, purposeful and idealistic young people who set out with high aspirations to a fulfilling career that adds to the sum of human good. There is a danger, as one of my former students recently put it, of “losing your sense of self.” People in my position need to encourage aspiration but to do so in an informed way. Facilitate. Educate. Help to shape realistic aspirations and futures. Make people not break people, while effectively managing expectations. And this means that aspiring lawyers need to be made aware not only of the market realities (and, to be sure, there are some grim realities that cannot be sugar-coated) but also the opportunities.
Happily, there are others who share my goal and who are better equipped than I am to deliver on it. Last month, Alison Monahan and Lee Burgess of Girl’s Guide to Law School, , Amicus Tutoring, and Law School Toolbox fame, hosted the Catapult 2013 conference in San Francisco. Catapult 2013’s aim was to help empower its target audience of law students and young attorneys not just to find a job in the legal industry but to exploit emerging opportunities and to create and develop a fulfilling career over the long term. You can read various detailed accounts of the conference here and sign up to join the Catapult mailing list for information about future events under the Catapult banner. Like all things Girl’s Guide, a potentially great resource.
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