Polish your writing skills with Bryan Garner's 2020 advice
Photo of Bryan Garner by Winn Fuqua Photography.
As the editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, Bryan A. Garner sees a lot of legal writing, both good and bad. Here is a collection of his columns from 2020.
“Legal writers are constantly called on to explain things. Among the most difficult and predictably recurrent types of explanation is why a legal precedent bears on a point to be decided. Although every lawyer must be prepared to do this, it’s surprisingly tricky.”
“Let’s try a 20-question quiz. The object is to select the choice that writers, editors and book publishers have overwhelmingly used over the past several decades. We’re assessing your knack for standard written English. We’re testing your feel for plurals, possessives and subject-verb agreement. These are grammatical issues, not word-choice issues. See how you fare.”
“Regardless of whether Shakespeare used playhouse closings to write great drama, it’s worth asking yourself: What should I do during periods of isolation?”
“Should schoolchildren be taught standard English grammar? The traditional view, of course, is yes. The contrary position is we shouldn’t insist people learn standard written English. Instead, we should teach everyone to be tolerant of regional and class dialects—not just accents but dialects.”
“In my office, colleagues are evaluated on the worth of their edits: Everyone is expected to make the types of edits that professionals at the copy desks of major magazines would make. The idea is that the final product should sing.”
In Garner’s view, Judge Thomas M. Reavley of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shows us how to spend more time thinking and less time writing.
Bryan A. Garner is the co-author of The Law of Judicial Precedent (2016), editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, and president of LawProse Inc. in Dallas. Find him on Twitter @BryanAGarner.