The Legal Reader: An Exposé

51 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2012 Last revised: 12 Oct 2017

See all articles by Michael J. Higdon

Michael J. Higdon

University of Tennessee College of Law

Date Written: March 9, 2012


John Steinbeck once said, “Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out the person — a real person you know, or an imagined person — and write to that one.” For legal writers, however, this advice is somewhat difficult to follow as their documents are likely to be read by many different kinds of audience members. In this Article, however, I mean to focus specifically on one particular kind of reader: the legally-trained reader or, more simply, the legal reader. After all, the majority of lawyers will find themselves communicating most often with legal readers, whether those readers are other lawyers, judges, or even legislators.

But who is this legal reader? And, further, what is it about this person that makes her different from an ordinary reader? Various texts on legal writing have alluded to the legal reader and some have even identified some of the key characteristics such a reader is likely to possess. In this Article, however, I want to go further. Specifically, it is my goal to synthesize all the various descriptions that others have used when describing the legal reader into a single manageable definition, one that is based on and identifies the pertinent traits of the average legal reader. I then illustrate the way in which these traits manifest themselves in the expectations of the legal reader — expectations the legal writer must understand if he hopes to communicate with the legal reader most effectively.

Along the way, I rely heavily on examples from pop culture given that pedagogy scholars have increasingly come to classify pop culture as being “indispensable in education.” In fact, even “[l]egal scholars are starting to recognize the positive impact of using popular-culture references as a mechanism of communication in legal discourse.” Thus, because I hope this article might (at least in part) serve as a teaching tool, I have intentionally included the various pop culture references contained herein to provide us all with some common ground — after all, when it comes to legal education, “students” (whether talking about law students in particular or life-long students of the law in general) are able to “better understand, explore, apply, and synthesize new legal concepts when the concepts are linked or related to their preexisting knowledge and experiences.” (All quotations are from the article.)

Keywords: legal reader, legal writing, law and pop culture

Suggested Citation

Higdon, Michael J., The Legal Reader: An Exposé (March 9, 2012). 43 N.M. L. Rev. 77 (2013), University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 183, Available at SSRN: or

Michael J. Higdon (Contact Author)

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States

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