How to write like a lawyer

The short answer is don’t.  If to “write like a lawyer” means to write in the same way that most judges and lawyers do (including yours truly – I can identify good writing but can’t do it), then one should do one’s best to avoid it.

If, on the other hand, “to write like a lawyer” means to write succinctly, clearly, cleanly and persuasively, then one ought to do one’s absolute best to reach that goal.

I have three pieces of what I hope is practical advice:

1.  Read good writing every single day.

2. Write and re-write.  Draft and re-draft.  Write and re-write.  Draft and re-draft.  You get the idea. Of course for most of us there is a practical problem:  not enough time.  Still, within the confines of your circumstance, do the best you can.  Practice may not make perfect but it may allow the reader (a) to understand what you’re trying to say, (b) the opportunity to agree with you and (c) if you really hit a home run, to appreciate what you’ve said and how you’ve said it.

3.  Hire Joe Cooper, former counsel to The New Yorker Magazine, to work with you via email (unless you live in Connecticut or New York).  Joe helped me write a eulogy to be given to a large group of lawyers.  There wasn’t much time.  I was terrified of not doing a proper job of paying tribute to a friend who died far too young.  I had never given a eulogy.  I went to Joe with a draft.  In the next three hours, I learned more about writing than I would have ever thought possible.  Since then, from time to time, I have brought articles and briefs to Joe, who, employing many of the same principles I learned from him earlier albeit in a different context, helped me make what I was trying to say much clearer and accessible and interesting to the reader.  As a writer, Joe has the highest regard for his readers.  He never forgets them.  When one reads things he’s written, one has the pleasure of the ideas and arguments he puts forward.  It is a pure experience for the reader.  Joe is nowhere in sight until after the reader is finished and has a sense of appreciation for what he’s just read.

I don’t know if Joe is taking on new clients / students.  I don’t have his permission to give out his email address.  If anyone is interested in contacting Joe for teaching or editorial services, let me know via email (wick.chambers@winnicklaw.com).  I’ll contact Joe and get back to you.