So many legal writing books, so little time (or necessity).
December 15, 2010 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Legal writing/law school filter: As a 2L, I have a few legal writing books that I had to buy for my first year writing course. I'm curious which ones I could (should?) get rid of, and/or suggestions for others.

I have the following:
  1. Legal Writing and Analysis by Linda H. Edwards. It seemed ok, maybe useful in the future?
  2. Legal Writing: Getting It Right and Getting It Written by Ray and Ramsfield. This seems fairly useless to me, but maybe the checklists save it?
  3. Basic Legal Research by Amy Sloan. Was helpful at first, but now I think it's assumed that we should be competent at this already?
  4. The Winning Brief by Bryan Garner. I don't think I want to part with this; probably the most helpful of the bunch so far.
  5. A cheap, older edition of A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, also by Garner. Don't want to part with this either, though I do understand Garner's coming out with a new version soon. I'm such a Garner fan I also have his Garner's Modern American Usage (3rd ed.) as well (because I'm a huge nerd and love words).
So really, how much do I need any of the first three? If I'm already generally comfortable with legal research (and not just using Wexis, but annotated codes, digests, treatises, etc.), do I really need Sloan?

I suppose the bottom line is this: will any of these be useful in the future? Or will I consult them so little that any of them are not worth keeping?

Additionally, are there other books or resources that you'd consider invaluable that I have not mentioned? For example, I've heard good things about Garner's Redbook.

Thank you!
posted by midatlanticwanderer to Education (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I never looked at any of my law school books after I finished the classes they were for. Except the Redbook. YMMV.
posted by amro at 6:01 PM on December 15, 2010

I also never looked at any of my law school books after the class finished (I did look something up in my FRCP once though). Books from legal research and writing seemed especially useless for me to keep, since I mostly picked up the writing style used in the government agency where I interned and will work after graduation.
posted by mesha steele at 6:06 PM on December 15, 2010

Everyone I know who's read it says they love Volokh's Academic Legal Writing. If you want to publish (or if you can write on to law review between 2L and 3L at your school,) it's supposedly fantastic. The Red Book is pretty much the only legal writing book I've seen that has a better review average (it's a .05/5 difference on LibraryThing.)
posted by SMPA at 6:07 PM on December 15, 2010

The only thing I kept was by Bluebook for citations. Still use that one.

Once you have the gist of legal research, the best way to hone it to just do it again and again. The books at this point are not going to help you much.
posted by Leezie at 6:07 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a CLA with Bryan Garner and it was (surprisingly) great. I would keep that one too if it was half as good as the course I took. No need to keep the rest (except for the bluebook on citations).
posted by murrey at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2010

Oops CLE
posted by murrey at 6:12 PM on December 15, 2010

Definitely keep Garner's usage dictionary. But why get rid of any of them? Do you need the space? Sell your torts casebook, sure, but why not hold onto books about writing even if you don't "need" them? If there's a type of book you may want to consult at some point in the future, this is it.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:21 PM on December 15, 2010

Best answer: I've been practicing about six years and The Redbook is the only book that I reference frequently. I will occasionally look at "Modern Legal Usage," but don't make the time to do so frequently. I don't think there is any reason to keep any of your non-Garner resources.

Chapter 1 of The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law is an outstanding (and really brief) distillation of legal memo writing. You can download the chapter for free from the ABA at the bottom of this page. Herrmann's thoughts on how to discuss a case are spot on and will add real polish to both your analysis and your writing. I highly recommend this book to all new lawyers. It's short, enjoyable, and practical.

Typography for Lawyers is getting a bunch of great reviews. I haven't picked it up yet, but that will probably change soon.

If you want to keep up with legal writing issues I highly recommend subscribing to JALWD (it's free) and bookmarking and the (new) legal writer by Ray Ward. If you add his legal writing blogroll to a feed reader, you will probably have all the legal writing inputs you could want. Enjoy!
posted by ajr at 7:13 PM on December 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, Garner's Redbook is quite good - I've been using mine for years.
posted by exogenous at 7:39 PM on December 15, 2010

Keep the Garners, get rid of the others.

Garner is great; our old firm used to bring him in to "train" us. I don't know that it really helped, but he's entertaining.

Chances are at your first job, they're going to train you to write how they want you to write, not how the books and classes have taught you to write, so, really, the books don't help. For instance, my old firm demanded lots of legalese; another job I had demanded all cites in footnotes; now no one cares what I do as long as I make a strong argument. But it took 7 years and more than one job before I could have my own way of writing that people didn't destroy. That number will vary by job, but is unlikely to be, say 1 year.

I just went and read the curmudgeon's guide chapter liked by ajr. You should read that. Those rules will serve you well with almost every partner I've ever worked with. It speaks the truth.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:49 PM on December 15, 2010

Response by poster: thanks for the answers so far, everyone. I actually just got Typography for Lawyers a few weeks ago -- so far it's good/practical stuff.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 8:00 PM on December 15, 2010

Best answer: I totally disagree. Not with the "Keep the Garners" advice -- that's great, and expand your library of his works too. But I regularly use my law school books -- the horn books for areas of law outside of my specialty, some of the case books for background on the more controversial areas of the law, and definitely my legal writing books.

My legal work is 100% research and writing. I never meet clients or go to court. I specialize in advanced appellate work, writing briefs and motions and nothing else. I therefore work on my writing quite regularly, not only trying to improve each individual piece I write, but also just generally improving my legal thinking, research, and writing. I read a lot about how to persuade, how to frame legal arguments, how to write a good fact section. I wince when I read most of my opponents' briefs, because they are written so badly they are the equivalent of someone shouting from the bottom of a well.

Writing is my job. It's what I do. I work on my writing the same way a pitcher works on his pitch. I keep all my writing books, and refer to them regularly, because each gives me a different way of looking at things, and each has its own strengths. The Garner books get the most use.

If you've got a book you never look at, try looking at it again and seeing why. Then decide its fate. If you love words and writing, you'll probably be able to discern which books really speak to you, and which don't. And I personally would keep them all.
posted by Capri at 8:32 PM on December 15, 2010

everyone who has ever talked to me about legal writing has recommended the Scalia book.
posted by anthropomorphic at 10:04 PM on December 15, 2010

Definitely keep the Garner dictionary. I regularly crack open my copy (2d ed.) to resolve disputes or nagging questions about whether I'm using a phrase correctly. It sits on my shelf next to the (untouched for several years) copy of Black's Law Dictionary and an outdated edition of the Blue Book. It is probably the most-often consulted hardback book in my personal professional "library". (I regularly flip through my personal softbound copies of court rules and some statutory compilations, and use a lot of online sources, tho'.)

I can't think of any time when I've felt the desire or need to go back to my old legal research & writing materials (I think I sold most of them for pennies on the dollar when I was still in law school).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:22 PM on December 15, 2010

Response by poster: Agree that the Curmudgeon chapter linked above was worth it -- thanks for pointing us all to it.

Capri -- I am keeping a few of my shorter treatises or horn books (for the courses where I actually obtained on); thanks for talking about your experiences.

QuantumMeruit -- first, great username. Second, glad to hear you make good use of the Garner dictionary.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 6:04 AM on December 16, 2010

Are you talking about what you might need for law practice? Garner's are the only ones of your list worth keeping, but I also recommend "Writing to Win" by Stark, which brings a valuable alternate perspective to persuasive legal writing. What you learn about legal research (especially) and writing in law school is anywhere between marginally or occasionally useful and just useless in law practice, unless you land an associate job at a "top" firm.

Legal research as it is taught in law school is awful. I am in a position to see the "skills" of baby lawyers regularly, and the work product is diligent, looks complete, and way too often misses the mark entirely.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 7:22 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: missouri_lawyer -- essentially, yes. Thanks for the Stark recommendation; I'll take a look.
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 3:34 PM on December 16, 2010

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