On edentulism and legal writing

I suffer from edentulism and after yesterday the condition got worse. That naturally lead me to Judge Andy Guilford’s call for the use of modern headings in legal writing. I know Judge Guilford just a bit. He was a very experienced trial lawyer in California before be became a federal district judge. He is a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, and a former President of the State Bar of California. I bet he is a great trial judge. I know he is a nice guy.Resources-15002-guilford_hon andrew j_20141011115535

Anyway, the Judge can write. He also has good ideas about legal writing. Please read “Judge Andrew J. Guilford, ‘Modern headings to head readers the right way’” from the V conspiracy. I heartily endorse the Judge’s ideas on this subject. Tell me what you think about the Judge’s views (and, while you are at it, feel free to offer any solutions to my condition).



14 responses

  1. I like it. Matthew Butterick of “Typography for Lawyers” fame also recommends it.

    Every time I’ve tried it, though, someone senior has edited it out in favor of the traditional but useless numbering style. That, of course, makes me like it more. So someday, when I have full editorial discretion… (not counting the client, of course).

  2. Julian,

    I wonder why the pushback. I suppose tradition. You might ask your editor next time around and then point out Andy’s article.

    All the best.


  3. Butterick’s book should be required reading for all judges and lawyers. When writing for a judge for the first time, I’ve gotten in the habit of contacting chambers to learn the judge’s typographic preferences. Most of the time, they fall in line with Butterick’s advice. The only issue that pops up are whether citations should go in footnotes or the body of the text. But even Garner and Scalia are at odds on that one.

  4. As an appellate lawyer friend of mine point out recently, no one has ever received a decision that stated, “although the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we are constrained to reverse because of the prosecution’s egregious use of the Courier typeface and pervasive use of footnotes for citations. REVERSED and DISMISSED.”

  5. shg,

    Poor fellow. You simply have no clue about the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (F.R.A.P.).

    Ignoring the substantive strength of an argument because of the use of Courier typeface is only proper when you can screw a criminal defense lawyer. I know that rule exists somewhere in F.R.A.P. Indeed, the few times I have sat with the Circuit, I have applied that rule myself. It is a handy way of cutting down on work.

    All the best.


  6. Judge Imitate the Court you are writing for is good advice, though it occasionally makes me wish I had saved one of my kids copy of Doctor Seuss’s Dictionary.

  7. That is an excellent idea, I will.

    As for pushback generally, though, oh boy. Leaving to the side former SGs and the like, the biggest most obstinate purveyors of horrible legal writing are, in my opinion, BigLaw partners who still insist on stylistic control.

    There are many, many exceptions, don’t get me wrong–but they are exceptions. I remember, as I still have it saved, the first two partner-comments I got back on the first draft of my first motion at a top BigLaw firm (not a humblebrag): (1) put two spaces after every period, and (2) add the phrases “Comes now”, “heretofore”, and “by and through undersigned counsel” to the first sentence.

    I fear only Judges can truly pushback on that sort of thing. Perhaps when us paeans have in hand an opinion that says, “by the way, no motion has ever been denied for failing to note that it was in fact submitted by the attorneys who signed it… so ya’ll can just get to the point next time”, we’ll get some traction. But until then, it seems a hopeless cause, at least much of the time.

    On the plus side, easy and eminently enjoyable things like reading this blog or most any book on legal writing have given me–to my continued amazement–a real competitive advantage over peers and adversaries. I don’t understand, that is, how everyone doesn’t internalize a Bryan Garner book (Judge, I know you’ve had a few choice words for Garner in the past, but that notwithstanding, his books are great) and, as a result, making their briefs roughly 100% better . But most don’t. And at some point I’ll accept that most won’t, and I’ll rest easy.

  8. That’s what I get for buying the abridge FRAP. Next time, I’ma gonna get the one with the magic inside poop and win the daylights out of all my appeals. With Times Roman, just out of spite.

  9. SHG,

    Just how did you know that the Eighth Circuit requires Times New Roman? You weren’t supposed to have access to secret handshake materials.

    It is time to check my NSA account on you bud.

    All the best.


  10. Judge —

    I think Judge Guilford makes a good point, and I’ll try it. Of course, I said that a long time ago about Judge Mikva’s suggestion to avoid footnotes, and I still haven’t managed to follow through.*


    * That said, I still try to use as few footnotes as possible.

  11. Julian,

    The Big Law Partners you describe are just like me. That is, when Jan and Jim, my career law clerks, write stuff, I try hard to gig them on some insignificant thing just ’cause I can.

    Regarding Garner, and more seriously, he is very good. If you had to find consistently good writing tips, he is probably the one to follow.

    Finally, and as to judges pushing back against horrible legal writing, the sad truth is that we would rather complain than teach. But, I will tell you honestly that if you develop a reputation for good writing, judges notice. That means you are at a competitive advantage in most situations just ’cause you write clearly. So, maybe shit-writing is good for you!

    All the best.


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