George F. Will, Q.C.

Q.C. stands for Queen’s Counsel.  For reasons I explain in an earlier post entitled “Diane Rehm, Q.C.,” the Q.C. designation is my way of saying that I greatly admire the manner and the excellence with which a person uses language and clarity of thought to express, often forcefully but always civilly, ideas, arguments and opinions. In my book, George Will is among the very best of the “Queen’s Counsels.”

One way for lawyers (or any one else) to improve their writing is to read on a regular basis something, anything really, that George Will has written.  You can find one of Will’s Washington Post op ed pieces here . I chose it because it is about two recent Supreme Court rulings, John McCain’s reaction to one of them, and about the Presidential campaign.

I happen to enjoy Will’s style.  Reading something he’s written is a pleasurable experience for me even if I don’t agree with him. One of the reasons I enjoy his columns is because I can always understand what he’s written.  I don’t have to guess.  I don’t have read and re-read just to get to first base.  The process of going from words to meaning is smooth, frictionless.  I can spend my time thinking about his ideas and arguments instead of trying to cope with the sound of grinding gears and the smell of something that has overheated. There is a certain joy in the cadence of his writing.

The way George Will writes reminds me of something Tony Fitzgerald once told a group of new associates.  Tony Fitzgerald is a great lawyer, a lawyer’s lawyer.  A graduate of Yale College and the Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar at Columbia Law School, Fitzgerald is a partner in the litigation department of Carmody & Torrance.  About writing a brief he said, “If you don’t have the judge’s attention by the end of the first page, you’ve lost him.”  Keeping that advice in mind focuses one’s attention.  No pleasantries.  No warm-ups.  Get to the point.  What’s the issue? Why should the judge decide in your favor? Make the judge want to read on. Make sense. Don’t use filler.  Make every word count. 

Writing a column is very different from writing a brief.  A columnist has greater freedom and independence than an advocate does in the context of a lawsuit.  But the columnist and the trial lawyer have this in common:  skillful use of language, clarity and economy of expression matter every bit a much as substance. To be successful both the columnist and brief writer must make their ideas easily accessible to the reader.  

George Will is not a lawyer.  He could, I think, have been a great lawyer but the price for him would have been too high, loss of independence.  My guess is that Will is at his best and that he feels most comfortable when he speaks for himself.  It’s not entirely clear to me that he could do otherwise.

Maybe for today, in this tiny, insignificant space Will has the best of both worlds: here he is thought of as both columnist and Queen’s Counsel, George Will, Q.C.