Post written by Hether Macfarlane

The most recent article from Ian Gallacher, winner of the 2018 Thomas Blackwell Award, is called My Grandmother Was Mrs. Palsgraf (find it on SSRN). Just as Ian has found a connection between his grandmother and an iconic name from our 1L experience, I propose a connection between Ian’s article and a podcast from RadioLab at WNYC.

Ian’s article focuses on what he sees as the “dehumanization of the 1L experience” and is a plea, among other things, to help students view the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases they read for class as “deserving of our compassion, our empathy, and our respect.” The podcast I recommend, “More Perfect,” presents famous cases in a way that the creators think of as “human, surprising, cinematic.” Most of the episodes consider an important case decided by the Supreme Court by looking at the people involved, not just at the legal issues.  Listening to the podcast, I learned more about the Dred Scott case itself, but also learned about a gathering of Dred Scott’s descendants and the descendants of Justice Taney, who wrote the infamous opinion. I have met the plaintiffs in Craig v. Boren, the case that established the intermediate scrutiny standard, and learned more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s connection to that case. I have learned about the background to District of Columbia v. Heller and the development of Second Amendment jurisprudence. And that is just part of the second season.

To get back to the connection, like Ian, I always try to get my students to think about the people in the cases we use in my LRW classes and to think about the “clients” they write to and for. I will start recommending More Perfect to them as a way to encourage them to think about the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases they read in my classes and their other classes. Perhaps listening to these podcasts will help my 2Ls who are taking constitutional law understand the various levels of scrutiny in First Amendment cases, a concept that seems to be eluding some of them. More importantly, perhaps the students will begin to think of their future careers as involving clients and opposing parties “deserving of our compassion, our empathy, and our respect.” And, at the least, they will find a way to learn about the law that is itself both informative and entertaining.

If you have not discovered this podcast, I recommend it to you as both fascinating and often enlightening.

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My new podcast has just posted on CAP·impact, the McGeorge  Blog on telling a compelling story. In this In Practice podcast, I discuss how telling a compelling story can help an advocate clarify points and simplify complex topics. To be able to tell these stories, an advocate’s skills are greatly enhanced by a solid grasp of how to effectively use imagery, simile, and metaphor; the podcast explains further and provides examples. I hope you’ll give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Post written by Lindsey Blanchard

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As a professor of lawyering skills, one of the questions I am asked most frequently by my students and colleagues is, “What do you think is the most important attribute of good legal writing?”  My answer used to be that there is not just one quality that defines “good” legal writing.  Good legal writing must be well-organized and accurate, thorough yet concise, logical and well-reasoned, and engaging but not dramatic.  It must be grammatically correct and supported by citations to relevant authorities, and it must have a clear sense of audience and purpose.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is one most important attribute of good legal writing:  clarity.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “clarity” as “the quality of being easily understood.”  Certainly, there can be no more important attribute of a piece of legal writing than that it is easily understood by its intended audience.  If a brief submitted to a court cannot be easily understood by the law clerks and judges who read it, not only is the attorney less likely to get what she wants, but the judges may think that the attorney does not know what she wants or that her client is not entitled to the relief sought.  If an associate drafts a memo for a partner that the partner cannot decipher, the associate is less likely to get more work from that partner.  Worse yet, if the associate drafts a memo that the partner misunderstands, the client might receive faulty advice.

So, what gives legal writing the quality of being easily understood?  Logical organization, thorough analysis, brevity, a sense of purpose, correct grammar and punctuation, and awareness of the intended audience are all necessary qualities.  On the flip side, legal writing that is not well-organized and complete, that rambles or is illogical, or that has no obvious point, will not be easily understood.  In other words, “clarity” really just sums up the many attributes of good legal writing mentioned above.

To some extent, then, “clarity” probably isn’t a fair answer to the question, “What do you think is the most important attribute of good legal writing?”  But, I have not found another word that more accurately describes the quality that is essential to all “good” legal writing.  The real estate industry describes the most important considerations in evaluating a piece of property as:  “Location!  Location!  Location!”  Well, “Clarity!  Clarity!  Clarity!” is my new motto for describing the most important considerations in evaluating a piece of legal writing.