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Sketches on Legal Style


Sketches on Legal Style book jacket View Table of Contents and Introductory Material

Sketches on Legal Style

by Mark Cooney

2013 $20.00 110 pp paper ISBN: 978-1-61163-415-0 LCCN 2013014829

Tags: First Year, Legal Writing

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Who says legal writing is a dull subject? This collection of lively, offbeat short pieces explores legal style like no book you’ve read before. But be warned: you just might learn something while you’re smiling. Through a colorful cast of characters, learn how legal writers can use plain language and careful syntax to produce clearer, stronger, and more persuasive documents.

Will legalese devotee Ebenezer Scribe change his ways after receiving visits from four clarity-minded ghosts?

Will Colonel Ketchup’s passive-voice phrasing obscure whodunit?

Will Editor Man defeat his most formidable foe yet: a dense block of statutory text containing, among other things, a 142-word sentence?

And much more . . .

But this book isn’t all fun and games. It weaves in real-world examples and commentary from judges and writing experts, giving fresh insight into how readers—especially judges—view the rote style choices that many legal writers never question. You’ll also find helpful tips and before-and-after comparisons. In short, whether a legal professional, a law student, or a writing fan of any kind, a reader will learn concrete lessons—backed by authority—on the best practices for legal writing. And although this book isn’t intended to replace a traditional textbook, teachers can use these vignettes and essays to reinforce classroom lessons and make challenging concepts more accessible to students. 

“This is a clever little book. It is a perfect bedtime read; each chapter is just the right length to improve your writing by a single increment between retiring to bed and sleep's arrival. But it won’t put you to sleep, as most books with 'style' in the title tend to do. With its whimsical tone, it engages, amuses, and sneakily instructs. And it seems to have been written with the maxim in mind that one of my professors imparted to me when he learned I would be teaching law: 'You can only teach three things in an hour. And three are enough.' Each chapter focuses on a particular rule or technique of good writing, clearly explaining how to incorporate it into one's compositional arsenal.” — Frederick Baker Jr., Michigan Bar Journal

“I just finished reading Sketches on Legal Style by Mark Cooney, and I loved it. Lots of practical advice in a readable, engaging book. I recommend it.” — Wayne Schiess, Legalwriting.net Blog

“[Cooney's] new book, Sketches on Legal Style, is fun, easy reading. It’s a collection of essays on legal writing, each delivered in a unique, humorous style. Two examples: 'A Legal-Writing Carol' in the style of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol; 'The Pleading,' a poetic lament in the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. Speaking of Dickens, this little book would be a great stocking stuffer for the law student or legal-writing geek in your life (including yourself!).” — the (new) legal writer blog

“Prof. Cooney's mantra-like theme is that clarity equals persuasion. He also readily demonstrates the converse; that inflated writing is distracting and easily put down. This lesson in precision should strike a chord with litigators of all flavors. …What makes Prof. Cooney's book notable is his use of story to teach these points. As trial lawyers, we know that stories are compelling. Stories are absorbed and remembered. Stories are powerful. And Prof. Cooney is a master of the craft.” — Chad Engelhardt, Michigan State Bar's Negligence Law Section E-News

“[T]hese short, funny pieces aren’t just for academics—they are for all lovers of good writing who just wanna have fun. …In just 100 pages, Mark Cooney brings to life the world of words and clear sentences. He uses real-world examples (with footnotes!), coupled with witty stories and essays. Sketches on Legal Style makes the case for plain language, and if the medicine goes down with a laugh, so much the better.” — Clarity (Journal of the international association promoting plain legal language)

“A Legal-Writing Carol,” the book’s first chapter, is a “sure-to-be-classic legal-writing take on Dickens’ holiday favorite.” — Legal Writing Prof Blog


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