If writing is hard — and it is — then legal writing is both easier and more difficult still. Easier, perhaps, because it is stylized: everything from briefs to judgments and legislation is carefully cropped of individuality and approximated to yesterday's example — understandably, because "It's not about you, writer" and it is about avoiding risk.
And yet . . . and yet . . .
More difficult, because, well, because life must break through from time to time if legal writers are not to fall on their quills or die of acute accidie. It's far from easy to give expression to your style without rotting your argument, far from easy, instead, to make the lines of truth and beauty leave the parallel and suggest, at least, a convergence.
Law school is starting or has already just begun, and first year students are being taught to think like lawyers — which ought to mean "write like lawyers." And so I thought of all this and LRW when I read today's post by Mark Liberman on Language Log, where he gleefully quotes at length from Richard Lanham's Style: An Anti-Textbook as he excoriates the "good writing" or "plain writing" textbooks, the earnestness of which "lies upon the spirit like wet cardboard," and whose advice is as dull and prosaic as that of Polonius. Says Lanham:
What we have now is a tedious, repetitive, unoriginal body of dogma—clarity, sincerity, plainness, duty—tarted up every week in a new, disposable paperback dress. The dogma of clarity, as we shall see, is based on a false theory of knowledge; its scorn of ornament, on a misleading taxonomy of style; the frequent exhortations to sincerity, on a naïve theory of the self; and the unctuous moralizing, on a Boy Scout didacticism
What hope, then, for legal writing? Structurally . . . doomed?