At Least Don’t Teach Bad Writing Habits

Law schools should focus on producing professional communicators – lawyers who are effective writers and speakers. Bryan A. Garner’s column for this month’s ABA Journal is entitled, “Why Lawyers Can’t Write” with the subtitle: “Science has something to do with it, and law schools are partly to blame.” Garner’s article states:

“While lawyers are the most highly paid rhetoricians in the world, we’re among the most inept wielders of words. Stop and think about that. The blame goes primarily to law schools. They inundate students with poorly written, legalese-riddled opinions that read like over-the-top Marx Brothers parodies of stiffness and hyperformality, And they offer law students little if any feedback (on substance, much less style) from professors on exams and writing assignments.” ABA Journal, March 2013, p. 24.

This is not the first time this problem has been mentioned here. For example, On January 6, 2013, I wrote that law schools traditionally have not only failed to teach communication skills but also have been counterproductive. Jim McElhaney, advocacy instructor, ABA Journal contributor for 25 years, and the forerunner of Garner put it this way:

“Law school is as much obscure vocabulary training as it is legal reasoning. At its best, it can teach close thought and precise expression. But too often law school is reverse Hogwarts – where Harry Potter trained to be a wizard – that secretly implants into its students the power to confuse other people instead of sowing the magic seeds of clarity and simplicity. . .

“So we lard our speech and writing with words and phrases of awkward obscurity and rarely have anything to do with legal precision but that unmistakably say, ‘This was written – or said – by a lawyer’

“Because we are professional communicators, it is our obligation to be plain and simple. It’s not our readers’ and listeners’ jobs to try to understand us. It’s our job to make certain that everything we write and say commands instant comprehension.

“And because we weren’t turned out that way by our law school training, we have to reprogram ourselves if we want to be effective communicators.” ABA Journal(September 2012).

By the way, Seattle University Law School has the best legal writing program in the country.