Friday, June 13, 2014

Why I Write

My Twitter friend Jennifer Romig (@jennifermromig and @listenlikealwyr), who blogs at Listen Like a Lawyer (, invited me to participate in this cool blog hop on “Why I Write.”

Check out Listen Like a Lawyer for Professor Romig’s “Why I Write” post here, and you can follow the trail backwards to read other bloggers’ posts about why they write. At the end of this post, I’ve listed a few bloggers I follow. I hope these bloggers will pick up the “Why I Write” theme and carry it on.
What am I working on?
I’m very excited that a legal writing text (not quite sure of the title yet) I co-wrote with Adam Lamparello will be coming out this fall from LexisNexis. We’re really excited about this book because we don’t think there’s much else out there like it. The standard legal writing texts teach memos and appellate briefs, but we focus on trial-level civil documents, and we cover everything from complaints to motions for summary judgment to motions in limine. We use a single hypothetical throughout the text, offer numerous examples of the advice we give, and discuss how we utilize our suggestions in the sample documents. The book is intended to serve as a supplement to a traditional legal writing textbook, a text for an upper-level legal writing or litigation drafting course, and a helpful reference guide for new attorneys.  

I also have an article coming out later this year in the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law called Riding the Bench—A Look at Sports Metaphors in Judicial Opinions. And I just wrote a short, follow-up article for the Sidebar (Federal Bar Association litigation section newsletter) called More Writing for Judges.

I have partial drafts of several other articles that aren’t anywhere close to being ready for publication. I’m particularly interested in the intersection between ethics and legal writing—specifically, the pedagogy of teaching law students how to be ethical writers. I’m also interested in religion and the ways judges use the Bible, Torah, and Koran as authority in their written opinions. 

As for my blog posts, you’ll see below that I don’t generally write posts more than a few days before I make them, and I haven’t yet decided on the topic for my next post.
How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
I don’t know that the substance of my writing is much different from that of others who provide legal writing instruction. While some writers and readers may have pet peeves (I’ve talked about that before here), many hallmarks of good legal writing are universal. My advice is generally non-controversial in the legal writing world—I believe in using serial commas, omitting contractions, erring on the side of formality, etc.  

My writing might differ slightly from that of others in my approach, though. I try to take a practical approach and give readers examples they can actually incorporate into their daily lives. It’s one thing to tell people how to write well, but quite another to show them how to do so with examples of good writing. I don’t give advice in the abstract—I show readers what I mean. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I learned many things about good legal writing from imitating the works of good writers (both legal and non-legal). I hope to help others do the same.

I also try to keep my writing light—I use a less formal, more conversational, readable style in my posts. And I try to incorporate real-world advice. In a perfect world, you’d have plenty of time to research and write, you’d catch every typo, there would be binding, on-point authority to support your position, and The Bluebook would be easy to use. Real-life practice is often different—at least it was for me. So I try to give realistic advice that time-pressed, stressed-out law students and attorneys can use.   

I’m not a particularly funny or clever person, but I add my brand of humor to my posts (to the extent possible). I think lawyers, as a group, take themselves way too seriously, and that’s often reflected in their writing—If you wouldn’t say something, you shouldn’t write it. This is a situation up with which we should not put (see what I did there). Practicing law is difficult, and in my Friday Funny posts, I try to add a little humor and show law students and lawyers a lighter side of law.
Why do I write what I write?
Because I’m a nerd—and I know it. I had the good fortune to learn about legal writing from some amazing professors—specifically, Linda Edwards and Jennifer Sheppard. I naively thought everyone received good legal writing training in law school. Then, when I got out in practice, I realized that many lawyers are poor writers.

Lawyers need to be able to communicate effectively with clients and other lawyers and write persuasive briefs. So many legal issues are decided on briefs. A lawyer can have amazing oral argument skills, but if the case is decided on the briefs, the lawyer will never get the opportunity to showcase them. I believe legal writing is one of the most important skills students should learn in law school—no matter what type of law a lawyer practices, the lawyer must be a good writer to be successful. So, I consider LLW to be my small contribution to the practice of law.   

I do try, however, to stay away from substantively controversial topics. I’m actually a very private person—writing a blog, tweeting, and having a LinkedIn account is the extent of my participation in social media, and sometimes I think even that is too much. I generally don’t share much about myself and my non-legal-writing opinions because I don’t want to discourage readers who might not agree with my views. The legal writing advice I offer is—I think—universal. When I talk about a case, I talk about the case’s importance in the context of legal writing. In all honesty, I’m not generally concerned about the outcome—I just want to know how lessons from the case can help me (and my readers) become better writers.  

And I love to learn. They say teaching others is a great way to learn, and that is the case for me. In writing this blog, I’m also improving my own writing—something I try to do every day.

How does my process work?

For LLW, I write about what comes to mind each week. When I first started blogging, I kept 5-10 posts in my queue, just in case I couldn’t think of anything to write about. But since I haven’t found that to be a problem, I now draft most posts a day or two before I make them. They might be based on something I saw on Twitter or read in a legal writing textbook, or on questions from my students, friends, or colleagues, or on something I have seen in court filings. Unless I indicate otherwise, the tips and suggestions I offer are my own, drawn from my experience, and they’re often given with a caveat that other legal writing professors and assigning attorneys may have different ways of doing things.

With respect to my articles, I gain ideas in much the same way. When an idea interests me, I do a little research to see if the topic is something I could feasibly write about. Based on the research, I decide the focus of the article and how long I might want it to be. Sometimes I write articles with a particular publication in mind and tailor my writing to that publication’s readership. I’m constantly looking for new ideas and publication opportunities.   

And in case anyone was wondering: I don’t post about cases I’ve worked on either as an attorney or a law clerk. While some of my ideas (especially my examples) are drawn from things I’ve seen in practice, I make significant changes to the facts or applicable law, or both, so the examples bear no resemblance to any real-life cases I’m familiar with.
Please check out these blogs:
Scott Bell— (@lawyerescape)

Scott describes himself as a recovering attorney. Scott’s blog is an insightful, honest look at his dissatisfaction with the practice of law and how he walked away and found happiness doing other things. Scott’s guest bloggers share their stories and encourage those looking for law practice alternatives to follow their passions, even if that means leaving law.
Raymond is a practicing appellate attorney based in New Orleans. On his Louisiana Appellate blog, Raymond outlines changing Louisiana appellate rules, summarizes important cases, and offers advice on useful CLEs. The (New) Legal Writer includes a collection of articles about legal writing from Bryan Garner, Ken Adams, and others as well as Raymond’s own musings on good legal writing.
Tony Iliakostas— (@lawandbo and @ailiakostas)
Tony just graduated from law school and is taking the New York bar exam this summer, so he may be posting and tweeting a little less. But Tony’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident in his Law and Batting Order brand—he’s everywhere online and even produces video episodes of LABO, where he discusses hot topics in sports law. This year alone, Tony’s covered a plethora of topics, including the Donald Sterling saga, Alex Rodriguez’s lawsuit against MLB, Darren Sharper’s legal troubles, MLB’s pine tar rule, college athlete unionization, and NCAA compliance. I love sports and enjoy Tony’s fun, insightful posts on his blog and Twitter.

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