The Daily

September 21, 2017

Days Of Writing

In school, I was all passive voice and trite phrasing. I came of age at a time when the movement in legal writing was away from flowery jargon and Latin maxims. The elders that decided such things wanted muscular simplicity, active voice and simple heavy lifting. The Strunk & White of my law school career was a small pamphlet by Richard Wydick reprinted from the California Law  Review in 1978. I still carry my copy around after all these years (32). It is filled with commands like always use “working words” and never use “lawyerisms”.

I’d graduated from a top prep school with laudatory marks and an AP pedigree. My English teachers assured me of my worth and value. Then, I got to Washington and Lee, where Professor Ray pulled me aside after class one day and calmly informed me that I should quit. Like, the whole thing. As in – leave. “You can’t do this,” were his exact words. I may have stammered some excuse but the whole conversation lasted about two minutes. Stunned, I walked back to my dorm room and thought – for a long time.

I didn’t quit. I made it through the rigorous curriculum with terrible handwriting and an improved – if flawed – command of writing skills. The W&L Law Review was equally unimpressed with my submission and I was relegated to the pack to continue working on my writing. I never stopped. I think about the rules of the road every day and try to apply them to the best of my ability in my clients’ cases. Not every case demands full focus but there have been many in my career to which I have devoted the full measure of concentration and application of the things I learned.

I continually work on the craft, attending writing seminars for lawyers and handling my own appeals (when I can or have to). Every appeal I have handled myself has been a victory for my clients. Some of them set landmarks in the law. You can see and read about them on the website and here on the blog.

The results after thirty years are, I find, quite passable. I’m not Hemingway in the legal field. But I think W&L would approve.

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