Monday, March 16, 2009

Garner on finding examples of good legal writing

Click on the title to this post to read a terrific entry at the ABA Blog, by Brian Garner. He writes on Finding Models of Good Writing. First, he points out that the most important way to learn how to write well, for any kind of writing, is to see and read good examples. Then, he mentions how difficult is has been to locate good examples of legal writing. Even in legal writing courses, faculty have often been reluctant to offer samples of excellent memoranda or briefs lest the students simply copy those without understanding what about them make them good, and learning to write their own original versions. (Wait, I thought that's what teaching was supposed to be about?!)

Finally, and most exciting, Garner offers his readers a number of resources for finding excellent examples of legal writing:

The problem, then, is finding good models. I’ve been aware of the problem for a long time, and I’ve tried to remedy it in my own books, especially in Legal Writing in Plain English and in The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style, both of which contain plentiful examples that it has taken a career to collect from some of the best legal writers around the country. But let’s assume you want more examples than can be found in those two books. Where should you look? Here are my recommendations. Let's begin with legal scholarship. The answer here is pretty easy: get a subscription to the Green Bag. 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.

For several other types of legal writing, the Green Bag Almanac is your best choice. Published since 2006, it gives awards for excellent legal writing of various kinds, including short pieces in law reviews, long pieces in law reviews, op-ed pieces, judicial opinions, briefs, motions, and books. Most of the award-winners are reproduced in full. It's an extraordinarily useful compendium of good legal writing—and it comes free with your subscription to the Green Bag.

For briefs, there are outlets many legal writers hardly ever think of, such as the Solicitor General's website, which contains every brief that the SG has filed in the federal appellate courts since July 1998 and selected briefs going back to 1982. Mostly, the briefs are astoundingly good—on the whole, markedly superior to what other lawyers are filing in those courts. Also worth reading are any Supreme Court briefs you can find by Walter Dellinger, Clifton Elgarten, Miguel Estrada, Theodore B. Olson, Evan M. Tager, or Charles Alan Wright.

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