The Commercial Court recently hosted a workshop on legal writing by well-known writer and lecturer Bryan Garner. I hoped to attend, but couldn’t make it. Shame really, because the opportunity to see Garner first-hand without needing to travel to the USA probably won’t come along for a while.
Garner is the current author of Black’s Law Dictionary, and widely known for his books Garner’s Modern American Usage, The Winning Brief, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, and with Justice Scalia of the USA Supreme Court, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges. (I’m looking forward to reading on my iPad my just-bought Kindle version of this.)
I guess that it’s no accident that our Supreme Court got someone like Garner to speak about effective legal writing: the emphasis on written work is greater now than ever. I hope we’ll see the effects in judgments too — the end of passive voice and perfect past tense perhaps?
Garner’s name popped up in the blogosphere and twitter streams last week when some big media picked up his SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) interviews with 8 of the 9 Justices of the Court. (I got it from JD Supra — a useful US site — which republished it from The Appellate Strategist.) He’s also published a transcript to accompany the videos. (For a bit of humour, check the short video of Garner sharing the floor with Justice Scalia. I’m sure I’ve seen a longer version on YouTube or somewhere, but I can’t find it right now.)
Australia has its own good sources for advocacy. I still come back again and again to Don Watson’s Death Sentence. (And if you like that, you’ll probably enjoy Steven Poole’s Unspeak, though it’s a little dated now with its examples from the Blair & Bush era of politics.) David Ross’s Advocacy can’t be missed.
Another book that sounds very interesting is Rediscovering Rhetoric, even more so after reading Chief Justice Spigelman’s speech at its launch (also in the NSW Bar News). Hope to make it to the bookshop for this one this arvo.
Last, another excellent resource for written advocacy is Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. He’s a typographer-turned-lawyer, so he knows what he’s on about. If you want to make your written material look more persuasive and easier to absorb, this is the book for you. I know I picked up many useful tips from this book. I hope this is another of the good ideas we adopt from our US colleagues. (Bye bye to Times New Roman in legal documents perhaps?)