A recent article uses quotes from some of history’s best-known writers to demonstrate how literature can help legal writers improve their writing skills.
In "What Great Writers Can Teach Lawyers and Judges: Wisdom from Plato to Mark Twain to Stephen King" (Parts One and Two), University of Missouri law professor Douglas Abrams suggests that advice from great fiction and non-fiction writers can be useful for legal writers because law is essentially a literary profession heavily dependent on the written word. In his view, good legal writing should be characterized by:
Precision: Abrams quotes short story writer Guy de Maupassant to remind lawyers that imprecise language can affect legal rights and obligations: "Whatever you want to say, there is only one word to express it, only one verb to give it movement, only one adjective to qualify it. You must search for that word, that verb, that adjective, and never be content with an approximation, never resort to tricks, even clever ones, and never have recourse to verbal sleight-of-hand to avoid a difficulty."
Conciseness: Conciseness increases the odds that the writer will not lose his audience. Theodor Geisel ("Dr. Seuss") wrote: "[T]he writer who breeds/ more words than he needs/ is making a chore/ for the reader who reads./ That’s why my belief is,/ the briefer the brief is/ the greater the sigh/ of the reader’s relief is."
Simplicity: The shorter word is often the better word, and plain simple language can be the most elegant. As Stephen King wrote: "Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule."
Clarity: Your written words should clearly express your intended meaning. The best legal writers write in such a way that their readers understand them. "Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style," wrote British poet and writer Matthew Arnold.