Friday, August 03, 2007

A new book on lawyering

Effective Lawyering: a checklist approach to legal writing & oral argument, by Austen L. Parrish and Dennis T. Yokoyama (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press) 2007.

This slim book is designed to be a desk-top reference for experienced writers, not a text-book for a LRW basic class. There are brief exhortations on writing style, grammar, punctuation, but the authors assume a basic familiarity with grammar and style. These brief paragraphs are designed to remind the reader of what they already have learned. What the authors add to the existing literature on writing and argument is an interesting mix of checklists and very practical advice tailored to a word-processing/e-mail world.

The book is very accessible, the authors taking their own advice about clarity and brevity. The layout makes it easy to scan for quick reminders and explication. Nearly every topic is represented with a heading and a single paragraph. Checklists follow every chapter, with sample briefs and memoranda at the end of the book. There is a good index and a nice table of contents to aid readers in finding what they need.

There seem to be several ways to use the book. The authors intend the reader to use the checklists, and refer to the text to supplement their memory or understanding of the checklist headings. But they also have arranged the text to make it easy to use as a reference to explain a new task. The book covers general legal writing tips, trial briefs, appellate briefs, oral argument, inter-office memos, letters (including e-mail) and academic writing.

The advice is clear, and generally excellent and current. For instance, they warn the reader about the dangers of e-mail: misinterpretation, broadcasting, loss of attorney-client privilege and retrievability of erased e-mails. There is, however, no discussion of the dangers of metadata in documents created with word-processors. This is not a huge lapse, but it would be an excellent addition to this very practical guide for modern lawyers and upper-class law students.

Portions of the book deal very briefly with legal research. Again, the authors expect the reader to have a good grounding from previous classes and/or books. The statements are sound, but aren’t designed to education a novice. The chapter on academic writing has helpful advice on doing a pre-emption search, and exhortations to thoroughly research the topic. But again, expects the reader to have good training or other resources.

Understood as a quick reference and checklist for experienced students and lawyers, this is a book I can recommend. It should never take the place of other, more in-depth resources for basic instruction or complex problems. But it would be an excellent desk-top guide to improve legal writing and advocacy.

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