Oh the joys of legal writing. Reading cases in my Constitutional Law course at La Salle gives me a taste of the type of writing I will see next year in law school, as well as the type of writing I’ll potentially encounter for the rest of my professional career. To say I have sometimes have moments of true horror would be an understatement. Though I admit that legal writing is type of technical writing containing techniques all it’s own, that’s no reason to throw good sense out the window. Take for example part of the opinion written by Chief Justice Taft in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture:
“Grant the validity of this law, and all that Congress would need to do, hereafter, in seeking to take over to its control any one of the great numbers of subjects of public interest, jurisdiction of which the states have never parted with, and which are reserved to them by the Tenth Amendment, would be to enact a detailed measure of complete regulation of the subject and enforce it by a so-called tax upon departures from it.”
Ok, so technically this sentence is grammatically sound so I can’t completely blast it as completely terrible. But look at it. Really look at it. It’s one sentence! Could it be split into two or more sentences for the sake of clarity? Sure! Does Justice Taft get a prize for keeping it as one sentence? Nope! I have my work set out for me trying to clarify the gunk that is legal writing, but I do think that clarity is contagious. Next year, I’ll be completely surrounded by legal writing, most of which will make me want to scream. But if I can be one less lawyer who avoids this confusion in my writing, I’ll consider my efforts a success.
Source: Mason, Alpheus Thomas, and Donald Grier Stephenson, Jr. ed. American Constitutional Law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009.