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Monday, March 21, 2011


I shudder a little when I re-read parts of my first law review article--the verbosity, the prolixity, the obscurantism, the obvious reliance on a thesaurus. . . .  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing, and I’m grateful to the editors who saw (what I still think is) a good point in all that purple prose--even if that point could in fact be boiled down to three sentences.

But then, that was almost 20 years ago (which also makes me shudder), and law school was several years in the future when I wrote it, and I was writing in the style in which I thought legal academics wrote.  I’d LIKE to think I write better now.  But thinking about it--and seeing Bridget Crawford's post over at the Faculty Lounge--prompted a few questions about style, about voice.  What style do you strive for when you write a law review article?  Conversational?  Formal?  For those who clerked, do you find yourself writing in a clerk’s voice?  Those who went to grad school or were in another discipline before legal academia, do you see differences?

Of course it varies by person, and probably by piece.   But do you think about it?  How conscious a choice is the style or voice you write in?  Were you taught a particular way?  Do you follow it or rebel against it (I’m probably opening up a thread for legal writing people as well)?

More style questions to come, but that’s a start.

Posted by jeremy_blumenthal on March 21, 2011 at 10:57 PM | Permalink


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I have a website at http://sfruehwald.com/ex.htm where I discuss these issues in detail.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Mar 22, 2011 1:55:24 PM

I try to write the main text so that a college-educated lay person interested in the article's topic can understand it. For the footnotes, I assume the reader has a legal education. As with all legal writing, the goal is clear communication. IMHO, that's usually best achieved with plain English.

Sue Liemer
Director of Lawyering Skills
Southern Illinois University School of Law

Posted by: Sue Liemer | Mar 22, 2011 1:22:55 PM

I was a technical writing major, which greatly influenced my writing style. I tend to write conversationally so I can reach everyone. I am so informal in my writing that I must dress up the writing in my law review articles slightly (after five dress, if you will, versus business casual).

Posted by: Amanda Peters | Mar 22, 2011 8:57:57 AM

(to clarify not lol b/c of anything whatsoever about blumenthal's article. lol at the takes-a-second-to-get-it crack on self-linking generally.)

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 22, 2011 7:41:39 AM

lol @ shag

Posted by: anonymous | Mar 22, 2011 7:39:23 AM

Thanks for not providing a link to your first law review article.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Mar 22, 2011 6:02:12 AM

I shudder a little when I re-read parts of my first law review article--the verbosity, the prolixity, the obscurantism, the obvious reliance on a thesaurus.

Ditto. These days, at least, I try to write as clearly and conversationally as I can. The way I see it, I am trying to reach an audience. The more I can write clearly and conversationally, the larger my audience is likely to be.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 22, 2011 12:47:44 AM

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