Book Review: The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing

By Theodore L. Blumberg | Owlworks | $7.95 | 56 pages | 2008

Writing is never easy, and no treatise can make it so. Legal writing is one of the most difficult tasks we do as attorneys, but Theodore L. Blumberg’s book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing, is sure to improve anyone’s legal writing by providing a concise roadmap of what he calls “deadly sins” to avoid. With his book, Blumberg brings clarity and insight into the often antiquated world of legal writing.

Parsing through common pitfalls encountered by legal writers,  Blumberg provides a down-to-earth examination of the seven most common and easily avoidable traps that can make much legal writing mediocre.

Full of common sense, the book uses numerous tangible examples to underscore his points. For instance, when addressing the “sin” of verbosity, Blumberg instructs the reader to “write short” — never use fewer words than necessary, but never use more.

One particularly helpful suggestion that Blumberg gives is this: when editing your writing, put brackets around every word and phrase that may be expendable. Then, re-read the text and skip the bracketed material. Repeat this process and you will likely find that more can almost always be cut. To emphasize this point, Blumberg brackets unnecessary words in a factual statement contained in a brief filed by a law firm that ranks as one of the best in the country. The passage is replete with redundancy.

The author is also quick to point out that there are important exceptions to his rules. For example, in his discussion of lawyers’ unconscious tendency to write in the passive voice, he acknowledges that the passive voice can be effectively utilized to create ambiguity, to underscore a word for emphasis, and to strategically drain emotion from your writing.

Additionally, Blumberg provides helpful exercises that enable the reader to practice core concepts such as using active voice, utilizing concrete language, limiting the use of adverbs, eliminating double and single negatives, and removing unnecessary words.

William Somerset Maugham observed, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” Attorneys, however, have lucked out with The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing, which provides practical rules that can improve anyone’s legal writing.
 


CARRIE KERLEY is with The Landers Firm PLLC in Memphis and is a part-time legal writing professor at  the University of Memphis School of Law, where she received her law degree in 2006.