Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Strunk and White Still Rules

As a group we lawyers are not identified as great writers.  Even though writing is the bulk of what we do, our letters, pleadings, briefs, and articles are not always artful.  The plain English movement begs us to write better -- but artful legal writing still remains elusive.

Unfortunately this vacuum of style isn't going away.  If anything, younger lawyers are as awful at writing as their predecessors.  It seems that writing is being neglected in our schools and colleges.

For this post I am going very low tech.  As a liberal arts major in college, reading and writing is what I did.  Tests were essay based.  Homework and class projects were essay based.  We wrote papers.  Written words were the wings that carried me through college.  Beyond religious texts, the bible in my education was The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.  I did two things every day during my student life.  I put on fresh underwear, and I made sure I had my copy of Strunk and White.

In 2011 Time Magazine named The Elements of Style one of the 100 most important books of all time!  As explained in Time:
Reading the “Little Book” is almost like sitting in an elementary English class, which seems to be how the authors intended it. Strunk and White waded through the totality of our vast and complicated language and boiled it down to a terse 105 pages, including a glossary and index.
So powerful, so important, so essential is The Elements of Style, that it has its own Wikipedia article.

Of course there are critics everywhere, and Strunk and White do have their detractors.  I am not one of them.  The Elements of Style is only 105 pages.  Think about that. . . The power to master the written word in such a tiny package!  That is magnificent!  If you don't own The Elements of Style you need to buy it today.  Get the paperback copy.  Read it.  Press it open on your desk while you write.  Refer to it constantly.  Your writing will improve, and so will your lawyering.  You can buy it for ten bucks.  Go to Amazon, or your neighborhood bookstore, and get a copy.

Want a second option, consider  Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Scalia (Yes, that Scalia) and Garner.

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