#DearFindLaw: Legal Writing is a Freaking Nightmare
Everyone goes into law school worried about class: cold-calling, reading for class, case briefing, supplements, any prep possible to avoid being embarrassed in front of 120 classmates.
But do you know what law school is really about, besides Socratic mental torture? Writing. Legal writing class, clinical work, and well-written final exams. And for most people, writing isn't their strength. That's why this week's #DearFindlaw questions came as no surprise.
Don't worry folks: you will get better at legal writing, and you'll get used to the funny citation style. Just give it time and a lot of practice.
Tips For Bluebook Citations
Welcome back. And don't stress too much over Bluebook citation -- it's a pain in the butt, but there are a lot of tools to help you double-check your work.
Legal citation is stuck in the times of paperbound reporter volumes and is in desperate need of an overhaul. Nonetheless, parallel citations (491 U.S. 397, 109 S. Ct 2533, 105 L.Ed.2d 342 all point to the same case, but in different paperbound forms), and pinpoint citations (491 U.S. 397, 399, which directs you to page 399 of a paperbound reporter) are here to stay, even if everyone uses the Internet for research nowadays.
So yeah, it can be a real pain the [insert preferred body part here].
Here's a little tip: to double check your citations, use WestLaw's CiteAdvisor. (I believe it's included with the free student access.) Lexis may have a competing product, but around these parts (we're corporate cousins with WestLaw), we tend to stick with the former. Also, if you look up a case on WestLaw, and use "Copy With Reference" feature -- it'll automatically add the proper citation.
Other than that, proper Bluebooking, like every other writing skill, is just a matter of practice.
Back to Basics
Our other question, once again, comes from an anonymous friend. (He/She is real, I swear). Anonymous entered law school after seven years in the "real world," working at a job that required no writing whatsoever.
Now? She just got spanked by her first (thankfully ungraded) writing assignment. She wants to know how she can catch up to her classmates, many of whom came straight from undergrad and/or majored in writing-heavy disciplines.
I'll let you in on a little secret: most lawyers are miserable writers. You can, and will, be better. Why? You recognized the problem and actually want to work on it, instead of pushing forward with "heretofores" and ninety-seven word sentence fragments.
Let's start with some of my favorite sites, which are great for the basics:
- Grammar Girl (She is my go-to for "what the hell is this hyphen with elephantiasis?" questions.)
- Law Prose's Blog (Brian Garner is the God of Legal Writing. This is his tips site.)
- Read opinions by the best writers on the bench. (I prefer Justice Scalia. Judge Bruce Selya is more of an acquired taste.)
The other thing I'd tell you is this: write as much as possible. When I started at FindLaw, I was an utterly mediocre writer with a pinch of style. Now? I'm slightly above average, still with style. It's taken nearly 3,000 posts (1.5 million words) to get there.
You don't have time for that, but you do have time for writing multiple drafts on class assignments and maybe asking your writing professor to review early drafts before you submit them for a grade. And definitely review all of your assignments with your professor during office hours so that you don't repeat mistakes.
And if you have a lot of time (hah!), Making Your Case by Garner and Justice Antonin Scalia is a classic that is all about making persuasive arguments -- in written and oral form.
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