So Ordered: The Techniques of Great Judicial Stylists
The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing (SJLW) 2018, Volume 18
29 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2019
Date Written: July 2018
This article showcases and analyzes the writing techniques of the nation’s best judicial writers and describes six strategies that every legal writer should emulate. The article argues that while examples of unapproachable legal analysis abound, the goal of legal writing has always been plain language. James Madison called for concise, straightforward language when the founders were drafting the Constitution. And among the more recent calls, U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner slashed a district court judge’s opinion from 3,237 words to 602. His chief reasons for the edits were that the opinion lacked focus, forethought, and editing. From the U.S. Supreme Court to the trial courts, the best judicial stylists today write more conversationally. They use contractions, sentence fragments, and consistently break other conventional grammar rules to make their prose more lively and informal. The article highlights the plain language and authoritative style that make judicial orders and opinions a pleasure to read — and a challenge to write.
Keywords: legal writing, supreme court writing, justices writing
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