Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Point: A Review of Point Taken

I’m a big fan of Ross Guberman’s work. I’ve previously reviewed
two of his books, Point Made and Deal Struck. Ross’ latest, Point Taken, is an instruction manual on opinion writing. I’m a believer that simply telling others how to be good writers isn’t effective—you have to show them through good (and bad) examples. And that’s exactly what Point Taken does.

Ross has selected some of the best snippets from the world’s best judicial opinion writers to teach and inspire readers. In Point Taken, Ross breaks opinions into three main parts—the introduction, the facts, and the legal analysis—and offers strategies for drafting each. He suggests, for example, situations where writers might want to use a “succinct and unresolved” introduction versus a “succinct and resolved” introduction. Ross offers many examples, then shows readers how to draft each type.

For fact sections, Ross helps opinion writers decide which facts—and how much detail—to provide to further the writers’ purposes. Again, he offers contrasting examples, from England’s Lord Denning, Judge Patricia Wald, Judge Posner, Judge Kozinski, and many others.

Ross then moves to the “meat” of every opinion—the analysis. How should the writer organize the analysis? How much analysis should the writer offer? How should the writer address counterauthority and counterarguments? Ross answers these questions, and more, all the while giving interesting examples of analyses from trial and appellate judges both here and abroad.   
In the second half of the book, Ross gives readers his style must-haves, such as variations in sentence length and form, parallelism, seamless transitions, and 16 key phrases to remove from writing (e.g., with respect to, with regard to, assuming arguendo). For the more ambitious writers, Ross also offers his style nice-to-haves, which include metaphors and similes, analogies, and rhetorical devices, such as word repetition (e.g., John Roberts’ “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”). Finally, Ross ends with a short chapter on dissenting opinions.

As expected, many of Ross’ tips and suggestions apply equally to brief writers and opinion writers—the value of introductions and headings, the importance of accuracy in the recitation of facts, and the need to fully analyze the authority, just to name a few. So even though Point Taken targets opinion writers, it’s good reading for all legal writers.  

As they were in Ross’ first book, Point Made, the good examples Ross offers in Point Taken are varied and entertaining (e.g., the 7th Circuit’s Pull My Finger® Fred case—yes, it’s about exactly what you think it is), making the book both enjoyable (seriously!) and informative. Point Taken is a quick read at around 300 pages and well worth your time.

You can read an excerpt from Point Taken here.

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