Models of Great Legal Writing

I recently reread Brian Garner’s oft-repeated advice on improving legal writing in an ABA article. The point: to be a good legal writer, you need to read good legal writing. Thankfully, Garner points to a few sources of such writing.

New to me was The Green Bag. Garner:

Here you’ll find some of the best, most interesting legal scholarship to be found anywhere. It’s a law review that defies most law-review conventions. Your subscription will get you not just a quarterly journal at a reasonable cost, but also a yearly almanac of good writing.

You can even access most of the journal’s articles from past issues online.

For “astoundingly good” briefs, Garner recommends anything from the Office of the Solicitor General. Also, anything you can find by Walter Dellinger, Clifton Elgarten, Miguel Estrada, Theodore B. Olson, Evan M. Tager, or Charles Alan Wright.

Sadly, Garner has fewer sources for good legal memos, motions, and contracts. I’ll recommend a couple places to start.

First, the Curmudgeon’s advice on writing a memo (pdf):

When you are writing a legal memorandum for internal use, there is only one proper way to discuss a case. This is the way:

In Smith v. Jones,

1. Somebody sued somebody for something.

2. The trial court held something. (The trial court did not “discuss” something or “analyze” something or “believe” something; it held something. Ordinarily, a trial court grants or denies a motion, or enters a judgment. Use the proper verb to describe the holding.)

3. The appellate court held something. (Ordinarily, an appellate court will affirm, reverse, vacate, or remand. Use the proper verb to describe the holding.)

4. Now, you can say anything else about the case that you care to.

Second, Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. Check out his sample documents for tips on formatting captions, motions, research memos, and contracts. For a great example of a concise contract, look at his font license (pdf).

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