26 April 2012

Readin n ritin (and rituals)

In wrapping up teaching for the semester I'm provoking my students with two US items on legal reading and writing. (Fortunately nothing on legal 'rithmetic'.)

'What is ‘Good Legal Writing’ and Why Does it Matter? (University of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 252) by Mark Osbeck comments  -
 Law schools face increasing pressure to improve instruction in practice-oriented skills. One of the most important of these skills is legal writing. The existing literature on legal writing contains various rules and suggestions as to how legal writers can improve their writing skills. Yet it lacks an adequate theoretical account of the fundamental nature of good legal writing. As a result, legal writers are left without a conceptual framework to ground the individual rules and suggestions. This article attempts to fill the theoretical void in the literature by offering a systematic analysis of what it is for a legal document to be well-written. It starts by examining a foundational conceptual issue, which is what legal writers mean when they say that a legal document is well-written. It argues that legal readers judge a document to be well-written if the writing helps them make the decisions they need to make in the course of their professional duties. The article then provides an analysis of the fundamental qualities that enable legal writing to do this, concluding that there are three such qualities: clarity, conciseness, and the ability to appropriately engage the reader. The article explains why each of these qualities is essential to good legal writing, and it examines the tools good writers use to make their writing clear, concise, and engaging. Lastly, the article examines what it is that distinguishes the very best writing in the field, arguing that great legal writing is not just writing that is especially clear, concise, and engaging, but is instead writing characterized by a separate quality, elegance, that is aesthetic in nature. The article then goes on to explore what it is that makes such writing elegant, and whether it is desirable for legal writers to strive for elegance in their own writing. The article concludes by briefly considering the pedagogical implications of the analysis discussed in the previous sections.
'The Legal Reader: An Exposé' (University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 183) by Michael Higdon comments that
John Steinbeck once said, “Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out the person — a real person you know, or an imagined person — and write to that one.” For legal writers, however, this advice is somewhat difficult to follow as their documents are likely to be read by many different kinds of audience members. In this Article, however, I mean to focus specifically on one particular kind of reader: the legally-trained reader or, more simply, the legal reader. After all, the majority of lawyers will find themselves communicating most often with legal readers, whether those readers are other lawyers, judges, or even legislators. 
But who is this legal reader? And, further, what is it about this person that makes her different from an ordinary reader? Various texts on legal writing have alluded to the legal reader and some have even identified some of the key characteristics such a reader is likely to possess. In this Article, however, I want to go further. Specifically, it is my goal to synthesize all the various descriptions that others have used when describing the legal reader into a single manageable definition, one that is based on and identifies the pertinent traits of the average legal reader. I then illustrate the way in which these traits manifest themselves in the expectations of the legal reader — expectations the legal writer must understand if he hopes to communicate with the legal reader most effectively. 
Along the way, I rely heavily on examples from pop culture given that pedagogy scholars have increasingly come to classify pop culture as being “indispensable in education.” In fact, even “[l]egal scholars are starting to recognize the positive impact of using popular-culture references as a mechanism of communication in legal discourse.” Thus, because I hope this article might (at least in part) serve as a teaching tool, I have intentionally included the various pop culture references contained herein to provide us all with some common ground — after all, when it comes to legal education, “students” (whether talking about law students in particular or life-long students of the law in general) are able to “better understand, explore, apply, and synthesize new legal concepts when the concepts are linked or related to their preexisting knowledge and experiences.”