While there are plenty of books on the market geared to teaching lawyers how to write better briefs, I have an unorthodox suggestion: to improve your legal writing, in addition to reading legal-writing books aimed at lawyers, you should also read Advanced Judicial Opinion Writing: A Handbook for New York State Trial and Appellate Courts and the Judicial Writing Manual: A Pocket Guide for Judges .
Despite the title, most of the lessons in the exhaustive (491-page) Handbook are valuable for lawyers practicing anywhere, not only in New York. And, again despite the title, the Handbook covers both basic and advanced legal writing topics.
Readers who want to brush up on the fundamentals can turn directly to chapters on grammar, punctuation and mechanics (Chapters XVII, XVIII and XVI respectively). A comprehensive discourse about problem words and pairs runs alphabetically from “a lot” through “flaunt, flout” and “sensuous, sensual” (it turns out Animal House didn’t get the distinction quite right) to “zeal, zest.”
More advanced readers will appreciate Chapter XIV’s discussion of literary style, which touches on well-known literary devices such as metaphors, similes and rhetorical questions as well as obscure ones such as polysyndeton (repeating conjunctions in close succession) and chiasmus (repeating words in successive clauses in reverse grammatical order).
All readers will appreciate introductory chapters on the top ten rules of opinion writing; twenty opinion-writing myths; what readers of judicial opinions hate (the top 30 vices); and what readers of judicial opinions love (the top 30 virtues) (Chapters I, III, IV and V, respectively).
Handbook author Gerald Lebovits loves alliteration. Discussing concision techniques in Chapter XII, for example, Lebovits directs writers to trash tautologies, vitiate verbosity and rebut redundancies. In Chapter XV, he encourages writers to use ordinary English, eschew archaic expressions and flay foreign words.
Looking for a shorter resource? The Federal Judicial Center’s Judicial Writing Manual: A Pocket Guide for Judges is only 43 pages long, including appendices. The most helpful chapters—IV. Writing the Opinion and V. Editing the Opinion—together cover 13 pages. In those few pages, the FJC addresses such issues as citations; problems in judicial writing; guidelines for good writing writing; and editing.