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Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text With Exercises 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226284187
ISBN-10: 0226284182
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

In Legal Writing in Plain English, Bryan A. Garner provides lawyers, judges, paralegals, law students, and legal scholars sound advice and practical tools for improving their written work. The book encourages legal writers to challenge conventions and offers valuable insights into the writing process: how to organize ideas, create and refine prose, and sharpen editing skills. In essence, it teaches straight thinking--a skill inseparable from good writing.

About the Author

Bryan A. Garner is the preseident of LawProse, Inc., a leading provider of continuing legal education in writing. He is also an adjunct professor of law at Southern Methodist University. His books include A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, Securities Disclosure in Plain English, and The Winning Brief. He is also editor in chief of Black's Law Dictionary.

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Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing (Book 2001)
  • Paperback: 227 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226284182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226284187
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Bryan A. Garner is leading what might be a Quixotic charge to make lawyers write clear, clean, unambiguous and even interesting prose. This book is a recent addition to the Garner arsenal, which includes the excellent The Winning Brief and A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. The anonymous writer from New York who slams Garner is wrong. He claims that traditional legal drafting has stood the test of time and is readily understood by judges, who ultimately have to interpret it. If the writing were clear to begin with, the parties wouldn't get to a judge. They'd likely settle. And that writer ignores the fact that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of legal decisions over contract disputes, almost all arising from documents that were "traditionally drafted." And different judges can decide differently about the meaning of a clause. That writer askes rhetorically whether Garner would insist that mathematicians use prose to make their work clear to laypeople. The rhetoric ignores the fact that mathematics is its own language. Legal writing is written in English, the same English used to buy groceries, talk lovingly to your spouse, and complain to the doctor about what ails you. There is no valid reason a contract should be beyond the comprehension of a layperson, other than lawyers' need to feel like they're elevated professionals with a grip on arcana. And the writer's praise of "Notwithstanding anything to the contrary" as an incantatory phrase in contracts overlooks an obvious improvement: "DESPITE anything in this agreement to the contrary . . . ." Garner is a brilliant, insightful teacher who cares deeply about the language and its highest and best use. We know what happens with legalese: litigation and contention and noncomprehension. Give plain English a try, with Garner as your guide to Aquinas's trinity of wholeness, harmony, radiance, and of course clarity clarity clarity.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The point of Garner's book is to write for the reader. This book would be helpful to any lawyer, if only because it forces us to think about how and why we are writing.
Too often, writers treat style manuals as if they were infallible--written on stone tablets by a divine author. Garner's book is not perfect and cannot be applied with a thoughtless rigor. As an appellate lawyer, I generally try to follow Garner's style, but sometimes it doesn't fit.
The corporate lawyer who complained about the book did not read it closely enough. Garner opposes thoughtless attachment to legalese, but he acknowledges that sometimes legal writers have to use terms of art. He also urges writers to be concise. I don't know where the corporate lawyer got the idea that Garner advocates "two pages of easily accessible prose over two sentences of conventional drafting," but it is not from this book.
Accept or reject Garner's advice as you wish, but thinking about clear writing will make you a better lawyer. Most of what Garner writes is common sense, but it's common sense legal writers often lack.
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By A Customer on September 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I strongly agree with five of the six amazon.com reviews, which are highly favorable and award five stars. This book is beautifully written, well organized, and eminently sound. Garner tackles the difficult job of convincing staid, inflexible lawyers to abandon the age-old practice of using incomprehensible legalese and thus ensuring that their contracts will have to be translated for those whose lives are affected by them and later interpreted in costly litigation.
Most prestigious lawyers, law firms, and judges strongly favor Garner's plain-language approach to drafting. For example, the late Charles Alan Wright, a brilliant Supreme Court lawyer and noted author, called Garner "the world's leading authority on the language of the law." And the Texas Supreme Court enlisted Garner's aid in redrafting the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure. So it's hard to believe that judges would generally prefer "conventional drafting" over the clear, accessible language that Garner advocates.
The five five-star reviews of the book on this website came from a law professor, a practicing lawyer, a book reviewer, and two others who appear to be nonlawyers. I wondered if the anonymous New York corporate lawyer who gave the book a meager one star knew something that everyone else didn't. So I checked for reviews from highly respected sources. And I found that Harvard Law Review, the Law Library Journal, and Trial have all published very favorable reviews of this book.
The plain-language drafting recommended in this book is widely viewed as beneficial, not only by nonlawyers, but also by highly skilled lawyers who seek to avoid ambiguity and litigation and who strive to improve the tarnished image of lawyers generally. I believe that Garner's approach would be condemned only by a few rich corporate lawyers who thrive by making themselves indispensable in drafting, translating, and later litigating the long, dense form contracts that they produce.
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Format: Hardcover
The problem with the 1-star review is that it has the problem completely reversed. The reviewer suggests that traditional legal drafting is *shorter* than the plain english drafting that Garner proposes. He need only read Garner's books to learn that traditional drafting is *significantly* longer and more difficult to read than plain English.
Furthermore, the reviewer needs to realize that Garner is not advocating that all legal writing be poetry. First and foremost, he advocates for clarity and precision. If the writer can also make it interesting to read (or even a joy to read), then more power to the writer.
If you're a lawyer and hate seeing "WHEREAS" before each recital and prefer a simple sentence, Garner is the man for you.
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