You Are Never Too Old To Learn A Few Tricks

Last week, I attended a seminar called Advanced Legal Writing & Editing taught by Bryan Garner of Law Prose. Mr. Garner has many credits, not the least of which are his position as Editor In Chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and his recent co-authorship of a book with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges.

I must admit that my colleagues and friends uniformly expressed surprise when I told them that I was taking a course on advanced legal writing. It is true that I have been making my living for the past 17-plus years as a legal writer. One even joked that I should be teaching the course. Undeterred, I patiently explained that even a seasoned writer can stand to improve his or her craft. I was hoping, at the very least, to scrape some of the mold growing along the edges of my own formulas and to spice up my offerings with new ideas.

I found Mr. Garner to be entertaining and enlightening. He was erudite in the field of legal writing, well-versed in grammar and masterful in his knowledge of arcane linguistic concepts and logic. He filled our day with novel ideas (placing citations in the footnotes rather than the body of the text, starting sentences with prepositions such as “and” and “but” and using strange diagrams resembling “octopuses” – or is that “octopi” – for initial outlines). He peppered the discussion with a historic (or is that “an historic”) selection of clips of interviews with judges about the key elements of effective written argument. He gave us assignments and critiqued the work, readily rewarding attendees with copies of his books.

The two writing projects I completed within the three days following the seminar were more solidly crafted and sharper than work completed before the seminar. I even rewrote a finished piece. I find myself thinking more about structure and flow and looking for ways to pare down the excess verbiage. I urge anyone who considers him- or herself a legal writer to think about taking a refresher course in legal writing every so often to home in (or is that “hone in”) on the finer points of writing a persuasive, effective product. I wholeheartedly recommend Mr. Garner’s seminars.

Mr. Garner will be joining Justice Scalia in presenting a seminar entitled Making Your Case on July 25, 2008 in Washington, D.C. I particularly like that all profits from the seminar will be donated to Legal Aid.

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