Legal Research & Writing Resource Month

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February is Legal Research & Writing Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library. Whether you are an attorney drafting a motion or a self-represented litigant navigating the court system, writing is a necessary component of your legal work. Visit the Law Library all month long to find resources on display that you can use to improve and enhance your legal research and writing skills.

To improve your legal writing skills, look for the following: 

To improve your legal research skills, look for the following:

Celebrate Plain Language Day 2016

Since the passage of the Federal Plain Writing Act on October 13, 2010, those who favor and promote the use of clear language have celebrated International Plain Language Day. The Act (Pub. L. 111-274) defines plain language as "writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience." The purpose of the Act is to "improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." Although the intention of the law is to increase the clarity of our nation's official documents, communicating in simple language is a worthy goal in all areas, including law. 

At the Harris County Law Library, we have several titles in our collection that will help you simplify and organize your writing. Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer's Guide to Effective Writing and Editing is one such title, and several CLE publications address the topic as well, including Exceptional Legal Writing and Legal Writing to Win. Bryan Garner, the undisputed dean of legal writing, is a strong proponent of plain language. His column, On Words, which is published monthly in the ABA Journal, is an exceptional resource for learning about the effective use of language in legal documents. An organization called Clarity, the international association for promoting plain legal language, is another useful source, as is their biannual journal, The Clarity Journal, which is distributed free to Clarity members. Past issues are available through the journal's online archive

Reducing the complexity of legal writing is a worthwhile objective, and taking a day to recognize this effort is part of that goal. Join is in observing International Plain Language Day and the commitment to using effective communication in government and law. 



Ernest Hemingway and Legal Writing

Ernest Hemingway, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of several classic works, was born on this day in 1899. He is remembered for many things, including his love of Key West, Florida and the polydactyl cats that now bear his name (as well as the legal battle involving their residence at his estate.) He is, of course, also celebrated for his writing, especially the minimalist approach to syntax and phrasing that characterize his greatest works.

Much has been written about the merits of Hemingway's style, particularly his clear and economical use of language. His signature approach has been touted by many legal writers, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, who, much like Papa Hemingway himself, has banished -ly adverbs from his legal prose. The Wall Street Journal addressed the topic of adverbs and legal writing a few years ago, describing the -ly adverb in this way:

"No part of speech has had to put up with so much adversity as the adverb. The grammatical equivalent of cheap cologne or trans fat, the adverb is supposed to be used sparingly, if at all, to modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. As Stephen King succinctly put it: 'The adverb is not your friend.'"

The ever-sensible Bryan Garner, editor of Black's Law Dictionary and the undisputed dean of legal writing, takes a more sensible approach, praising Hemingway's avoidance of unnecessary modifiers, while also acknowledging his skill in using adverbs effectively. If you'd like to tailor your legal writing to more closely match Hemingway's style, the Hemingway Editor can help. Happy Hemingway Day!