This Legal Writing Stuff

This legal writing stuff is hard. Good, but hard.

The thing I'm struggling with right now are the three types of legal writing I am engaged in on a daily basis right now. In the mornings, I have to think like a conservative federal judge, in the afternoon I have to think like a liberal plaintiff's attorney, and in the evenings I have to think like a legal scholar.

My externship for the federal judge involves very formal writing, from the perspective of the court. I'm working on research memos supporting an opinion or decision that the judge will publish an opinion about. This writing is very much about "the law" and "precedent." It's important to include some background material and to do a thorough analysis, almost handholding the reader through the logic. The writing is very judgmental: this is THE WAY it is done. It has to be precise, concise, formal, and correct.

My job at a state-level plaintiff's firm is hugely different. This is advocacy and persuasive writing, pure and simple. It's about selecting the best, most emotionally appealing arguments and using them to my advantage. This kind of writing is more about "the right thing to do" than it is about "the law." It's very impassioned, but it has to be simple, understandable, and emotional.

My law review note (which I'm knee deep in now and will be through the end of February) is a whole different ball of wax. This is scholarly writing, which feels like it has to be dry, boring, and scholarly. It feels right now like a "kitchen sink" approach- if it might be useful, throw it in, and we'll figure out what really matters over the course of our year and a half long editing cycle. Oy. This writing is more about "look how smart and impressive I am as I ramble on for 150 pages about the obscure depths of my oh-so-fascinating note on class action lawsuits." It feels pretentious and overbearing, especially given that I'm a law student who knew NOTHING about class actions 6 months ago.

All three types of writing are fun, but I'm feeling very intimidated by all three right now. I have just kinda figured out my one writing style- dense, with lots of quotes- and now I have to morph into three very different voices/thinking styles every day. Fortunately, everyone (except, ironically, the law review editors) seems to understand that I am a student and that I don't know fully what I'm doing in each voice. They seem to get that their job is to teach me how to be that voice in an effective way. That's reassuring, at least.

Don't get me wrong- I love all of it, and I love learning all of it. I just didn't realize how HARD it would be to change gears from one mode to another every 4 hours, as I'm doing right now. It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with a good dash of Johnnie Cochran thrown in for good measure. Did I mention that I'm feeling a bit schizophrenic?


meg said...

Hey there girlie with all the voices in her head!

Scout and I are going to plan an ABQ-wide Knit Out for this spring. Let me know if you have ideas, k?

Elise said...

I am a former legal writing professor (10 years at Albany Law School). If you ever have any questions about any of your three styles of writing, I am happy to help. One suggestion, however, is to reduce drastically the amount of quoted material that you use. Most lawyers don't really like it and most law review articles don't either because it does not demonstrate enough of your own analysis. Feel free to contact me if you ever have any questions.
Elise (elh@nycap.rr.com)