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Learning to Write

Midterms have come and gone and our first real paper is complete. After feeling all too comfortable with the whole law school lifestyle, I spent this past weekend locked away diligently constructing and reconstructing a Civil Procedure paper. Essentially, I spent the weekend trying to condense a 23 to 24 page paper into 15 pages. I learned a valuable lesson this weekend. A lesson that I have heard but ultimately needed to experience to believe. Legal writing is different. Much different. Like nothing you have ever experienced in undergrad (outside of maybe science writing). For someone that has taken pride in crafting elegant and flowing sentences with seamless transitions clever plays on words, the demands of a legal memorandum packed a punch. That is not to say that legal writing is hard, it is more to say that it is how writing should be. In fact, I strongly believe that legal writing would be easy if we had not experienced the years of English classes and liberal arts concepts that encourage broad conceptual generalizations with a focus on aesthetics. The law doesn’t care about those things. Sure it helps to have a creative style when trying to persuade for one thing or the other and sure it is acceptable for Supreme Court judges to include clever euphemisms and free flowing dicta, but as of now, we’re not there. We are in the process of learning to write…again. Legal writing is a return to the basics. It is a return to getting to the point without a bunch of rambling garbage that sounds good but means nothing.

Legal writing is a challenge. There exists a constant struggle of interpreting difficult concepts and making them coherent. We are tasked with the challenge of writing to suit the needs of our future clients; the majority that will be lay people. To that end, I have started to believe that a basis for legal writing is established in the ability to teach others through your writing. As lawyers (or prospective lawyers), it is our job to be at the intersection of complexity and simplicity. In essence, we serve as translators of a language that is intentionally difficult to understand for people that only care about it when they have an issue. No one wants to hear a bunch of Latin phrases and multi-syllable words during a serious, life-changing event. They want answers. They want answers that they can understand and trust without feeling belittled by the big words of a fancy dialect. It is our responsibility to learn that dialect and develop a deeper understanding of how we can effectively communicate it to help others. It’s a challenge worth accepting.

Legal writing is hard, but not that hard. It’s hard because it should be easy. We accepted the challenge of law school to make it easy…despite the fact that learning it is hard. A true paradox in the best sense, but what else would you expect from a subject that allows a person to examine what the definition of “is”, is?

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