THE LAWYER'S GUIDE TO WRITING WELL
By Tom Goldstein and Jethro K. Lieberman
University of California Press, Berkeley 94720
WHY GOOD WRITING MATTERS, EVEN IF YOU'RE A LAWYER
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
When Shakespeare penned his 'kill all the lawyers' line - forget which play... don't ask - he might have had it in mind that even in his day, the often bombastic outpourings of the then legal leading lights were a bit long on pomposity and a little short on clarity.
It would seem that in the intervening centuries, not a lot has changed -- hence the need for this terrific book aptly titled 'The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well' by Goldstein and Lieberman.
This is one guide to writing well that's written well -- very well. It's immensely readable, laugh-out-loud amusing, yet deadly serious. It is not a new publication, having been around on the shelves of university bookshops worldwide for a while, but the advice it provides is timeless. In our opinion it should be in the library of -- or preferably at the right hand of -- every lawyer in the English speaking world.
Lawyers who are at least dimly aware of the need for clear, concise communication should, if there's any justice, end up with a lot more grateful clients as a result of having read and noted the contents of this book. As the Washington Post commented, 'lawyers...need writers, or at least a guide like 'The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well' to help them put together a sentence that the rest of the world can understand.'
'The book's authors provide straight-to-the-heart advice for lawyers who want to face the music and turn over a new leaf in their writing...a book deemed worth having,' intones the Harvard Law Review.
'Deemed?' Uh oh! We have just perused the useful and trenchant Usage Notes section at the back of the book and have come across the word 'deem' and the authors' low opinion of it. 'Many lawyers love this word, for no apparent reason,' they say rather unkindly. In their view, no way should you say that something is 'deemed' inappropriate. Say instead that something is inappropriate -- like over reliance on clichés, for example.
Goldstein & Lieberman may sound a little punctilious at times and quick to mock and scorn, but they do it gracefully. And how refreshing it is to read a readable book on English usage which blasts the incessant and almost compulsive use of jargon, not just in the law, but in management-speak, techno-speak, psychobabble and just about everywhere else, including the media where folk should know better. The book's overwhelming endorsement of plain, precise English is encouraging and certainly positive.
'Does bad writing really matter?' challenge the authors, arguing convincingly that it does. It matters terribly if meanings are distorted or obscured, judges and juries puzzled and clients confused.
We once saw a bumper sticker on the back of a car at university which read: 'Eschew obfuscation'. Think about it -- and if you don't get it, you are a lost cause, so don't bother reading this book, then.
If you do get it, you need this book to tell you how to do it. Or if you do know how to do it, you'll find 'The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well' a useful guide to good English usage for your more verbose and obscurantist colleagues.