Is there a course in this? I’ve been going through “Legal Writing in Plain English” by Bryan Garner for months with my two blog-buddies KEL and Lisslo. It’s an activity-based book, with short passages and exercises on methods to avoid wordy, confusing and boring language. (As I wrote that sentence, I took out an offending “of” phrase, which I practiced this week).
The exercises contain sentences like this: “In the absence of any proof to the contrary, the court should presume that the administrator’s functions have not ceased.”
Seriously, I had to re-read like five times to figure out what it actually described: “Without contrary proof, the court should presume that the administrator’s functions continue.”
In a way this summer has been about re-calibrating my brain for legal language. As Mr. Garner explains, law students spend years learning to comprehend legalese, and then must battle to avoid spewing more of it into the world.
I’m a bit afraid of what law school will do to my writing. It’s important to be precise, but just as important to be understood. Working through the exercises in this book, I’ve noticed there are many bad habits I naturally avoid, but several that I regularly participate in. There are other phrases, like the use of many negatives, that I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around.
So please, if I ever use the phrase (from Garner’s $^it list) “during such time as” or “are in mitigation of,” please gently remind me to return to planet earth.