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Noah Messing is Yale Law School's Lecturer in the Practice of Law and Legal Writing. He teaches appellate advocacy, advanced legal writing, drafting, and arbitration, and he will help to run Yale's Supreme Court Advocacy clinic during the 2013-2014 academic year. Noah has trained more than 1,000 judges and attorneys to write more effectively. During law school, Noah served as a Coker Fellow and as an editor of The Yale Law Journal. For his work in the Morris Tyler Moot Court of Appeals program, he received both the Benjamin Cardozo Prize for the year's best brief and the Potter Stewart Prize for winning the Spring semester moot court competition. Following graduation, Noah worked as a trial and appellate litigator in Washington D.C., as Counsel to Senator Hillary Clinton, and as Associate Counsel to the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. In 2013, he chaired the Legal Writing, Reasoning and Research section's panel at the annual conference of the Association of American Law Schools, speaking about the "Past, Present, and Future of Appellate Briefs." His work on commercial speech has appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, and he is an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association.
I received The Art of Advocacy earlier this week. I haven't finished it yet, but I've devoured much more of it than I thought I would so soon. I can tell already that it's going to be a mainstay on the bookshelf above my desk. In fact, it should be a mainstay on every litigator's bookshelf.
I'm a senior associate in the litigation group of relatively large firm. I do quite a bit of motions briefing in my current gig. I'm an okay writer, and I've been lucky to be blessed by cases with good facts and law (which have led to several wins.) Despite that joy that comes from success, my biggest problem has always been that I find good written advocacy to be really, really difficult. It does not come naturally, and the anxiety/frustration that comes with wanting it to be perfect - but knowing that won't be easy - isn't very fun. This is the reason The Art of Advocacy has sucked me in.
The book's style and format is different from any other advocacy text I've seen. And, I love it. Reading through the carefully selected examples has motivated me to dive back into writing projects, trying to emulate the techniques in the excerpts I just read. I imagine it's not unlike watching Michael Jordan highlights before heading out to the basketball court. Whether conscious or not, observing the best inspires you to go out and try to play the same way. (And, hopefully, make your effort a little bit stronger in the process.)
So, well done Mr. Messing. You've done a very valuable thing here. This is a real resource, I expect it to overly dog-eared and highlighted in no time. This should be required reading for every lawyer -- from first year associates to partners. Buy it.
In a field in which effective practitioners MUST be good writers, this book is absolutely essential. I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone looking to improve their legal writing.
I wrote reasonably well before entering law school, so I assumed that I would have no trouble with legal writing. But it turns out that legal writing is hard. Lawyers work in an artificial world in which nearly everything is constrained—the available facts, the authoritative texts, the accepted argumentative forms. Even the structure of an argument is restricted by the court’s local rules. To write effectively, you can’t just navigate these obstacles; you have to actively use them to your advantage. Messing’s book teaches you how to do that at every turn.
The book is outstanding in a number of ways, but three stood out to me.
First, and most importantly, I wholeheartedly believe in Messing’s pedagogical approach: “the only good way to learn about writing is to read good writing.” That’s particularly true in a field as specialized and insular as law. Understanding the “principles” of effective writing is important, of course, but learning to write by learning rules is like learning how to hit a baseball by studying biomechanics. Messing’s lessons are built around meaty examples from top advocates, so you’re constantly exposed to exemplary work. You can’t help but pick up good habits.
Second, the book shows that every aspect of a brief can and should be persuasive. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from the book is the power of facts. (That Messing dedicates three chapters to facts is telling.) There’s even a chapter on weaponizing your table of contents—something I had never considered before picking the book up.Read more ›
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The Art of Advocacy is a terrific book. Law students, in particular, will find it an accessible, yet sophisticated, introduction to the art of legal writing.
There's a lot to like about The Art of Advocacy. One quality that stands out is the book's marriage of comprehensiveness and convenience. The book is about 300 pages long, and it has a lot to say. It covers the basic principles of good non-fiction writing, and the fundamentals of good legal writing, too. But the text doesn't stop there. Through careful, sometimes cutting analysis of excerpts drawn from carefully selected briefs and motions, the author also reveals and explains the more sophisticated tricks of the advocate's trade.
At the same time, the book moves along briskly, with the author parsing complicated subjects into bite-sized morsels. I have found myself picking up the book time and again just to read a randomly selected pointer, together with its accompanying illustrative excerpt that shows how to (or, in some cases, how not to) apply the technique. (Really. I know reviewers often say things like this. I actually am doing it.)
In sum, I enthusiastically recommend The Art of Advocacy to law students specifically, and lawyers generally. I teach at a law school in California, and will encourage my first-year students to purchase the book and consult it often as they get the hang of their craft. And I won't be embarrassed when they see it on my desk, too.
Full disclosure: I know the author from our law school days. But I would have called him out if he had written a bad book. He didn't.
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Fantastic information. However, the Kindle edition has problems: Abundant typos, missing words, improper hyphens, and the like. I have not seen the print edition but I presume it does not contain these errors.