Author Archives: Wayne

About Wayne

Wayne Schiess teaches basic legal writing at the University of Texas School of Law and also focuses on legal drafting, persuasion, and plain English. He is a frequent CLE and seminar speaker on those subjects and has written dozens of articles on practical legal-writing skills, plus four books. He graduated from Cornell Law School, practiced law for three years at the Texas firm of Baker Botts, and in 1992 joined the faculty at Texas. In 2012 and 2015, he was named the law school's legal-writing teacher of the year. In 2011, the Texas Pattern Jury Charges Plain Language Project, for which he was the drafting consultant, was named a finalist for a ClearMark Award by the Center for Plain Language. In 2009, five of his short articles were featured in the Scribes Journal of Legal Writing "Best of" series. In 2007, this legal-writing blog (LEGIBLE) was selected for the ABA Journal Blawg 100: "The best Websites by lawyers for lawyers."

Reducing legal-writing clutter with (cleaned up)

Have you heard of (cleaned up)—the daring new explanatory parenthetical?

Suppose you’re writing a piece of legal analysis and you need to quote a case that’s quoting another case. And suppose you choose to omit some words and alter the original a bit. Under Bluebook rules, you’d cite the case you’re quoting as well as the underlying source, and you’d show every alteration and omission. Those are the rules. So you might end up with something like this:

The Court has previously observed that “[t]he failure to affirmatively establish the fact sought does not ‘prevent the cross-examination from having . . . probative value in regard to the witness’s credibility.’” Henry v. State, 343 S.W.3d 282, 288 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018) (quoting Cawdery v. State, 583 S.W.2d 705, 710 (Tex. Crim. App. 1979)).

But what if you could delete the brackets, the ellipses, and the quotation within a quotation? What if you could omit the underlying source and the parenthetical it’s embedded in? Would that be okay, as long as you told the reader you “cleaned up” what would otherwise be a messy quotation? If you did, it might look like this:

The Court has previously observed that “the failure to affirmatively establish the fact sought does not prevent the cross-examination from having probative value in regard to the witness’s credibility.” Henry v. State, 343 S.W.3d 282, 288 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018) (cleaned up).

That cleaner, neater version was the goal of attorney Jack Metzler when he invented the “cleaned up” explanatory parenthetical in 2017. Metzler has also written a law-review article about (cleaned up). The idea was to make quotations easier to read and to reduce words and bibliographic clutter. So this original—

Above all, “[c]ourts presume that the Legislature ‘ “understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people, that its laws are directed to problems made manifest by experience, and that its discriminations are based upon adequate grounds.” ’ ” Enron Corp. v. Spring Indep. Sch. Dist., 922 S.W.2d 931, 934 (Tex. 1996) (quoting Smith v. Davis, 426 S.W.2d 827, 831 (Tex. 1968) (quoting Texas Nat’l Guard Armory Bd. v. McCraw, 126 S.W.2d 627, 634 (Tex. 1939))).

would look like this—

Above all, “courts presume that the Legislature understands and correctly appreciates the needs of its own people, that its laws are directed to problems manifest by experience, and that its discriminations are based on adequate grounds.” Enron Corp. v. Spring Indep. Sch. Dist., 922 S.W.2d 931, 934 (Tex. 1996) (cleaned up).

Metzler’s idea was a hit. Lawyers and judges have started using (cleaned up), and it has appeared in dozens of appellate briefs and judicial opinions in Texas, as well as in other state courts and federal courts. Metzler’s rules for (cleaned up) appeared in the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, and they’re quoted in full at the bottom of this post. But here’s a quick summary: Using (cleaned up) means that in quoting, the author—

  • has removed extraneous, non-substantive material such as brackets, quotation marks, ellipses, footnote numbers, and internal citations,
  • has changed capitalization without indicating the changes, and
  • has made changes that enhance readability while otherwise faithfully reproducing the quoted text.

Bottom line: using (cleaned up) makes quoting and citing easier and aids reading, too.

But beware. When you use (cleaned up), your credibility is on the line. You’re saying, “I haven’t altered this quotation unethically, and I haven’t done anything dishonest or underhanded.” If you use (cleaned up) to change the quotation in ways that misrepresent the original text, your credibility is gone.

Of course, that’s true of anything you cite or quote: if you’ve exaggerated, fudged, or lied, someone—judge, staff attorney, clerk, opposing counsel—will find you out. So consider (cleaned up) and join me in hoping the next edition of the Bluebook takes note.

Get Wayne Schiess’s books:

Legal Writing Nerd: Be One
Plain Legal Writing: Do It

_____

Proposed Bluebook Rule 5.4: Cleaning up Quotations:

(a) Cleaning up. When language quoted from a court decision contains material quoted from an earlier decision, the quotation may, for readability, be stripped of internal quotation marks, brackets, ellipses, internal citations, and footnote reference numbers; the original sources of quotations within the quotation need not be cited parenthetically; and capitalization may be changed without brackets. Indicate these changes parenthetically with (cleaned up). Other than the changes specified, the text of the quotation after it has been cleaned up should match the text used in the opinion cited. If the quotation is altered further, indicate the changes or omissions according to Rules 5.2 and 5.3.

(b) Cleaning up intermediary case citations. In addition to the alterations described in Rule 5.4(a), when a quoted passage quotes a second case quoting a third case, the citation to the middle case may be omitted to show that the first court quoted the third. To indicate this change, retain the quotation marks around the material quoted from the third case and any alterations that were made to the quotation, and insert (cleaned up) before the “quoting” parenthetical citation to the third case. Indicate any alterations that were made to language quoted from the third case according to Rules 5.2 and 5.3.

Jack Metzler, Cleaning Up Quotations, 18 J. App. Prac. & Process 143, 154-55 (2017).

Ending with prepositions

It’s not wrong. It’s less formal.

“There is no rule against ending sentences with prepositions.” Texas Law Review, Manual on Usage & Style 55 (13th ed. 2015).

Is that authoritative? After all, the MoUS is written by students. Yet Bryan Garner agrees: the “rule” against ending a sentence with a preposition is “a superstition that just won’t die.” The Redbook 195 (4th ed. 2013). Strunk and White say so, too: “Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else.” The Elements of Style 77-78 (4th ed. 2000). Yes, that’s the fourth edition from 2000, but the quoted language is unchanged from first edition in 1959 (see page 64).

Canvass the style manuals and writing references and websites—the answer is near universal. End a sentence with a preposition if you need to. Prepositions are perfectly good words to end sentences with. If you think there’s a rule against ending with a preposition, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

So what’s the deal?

First, a preliminary matter. This blog is about writing, not speech, but ending with a preposition is fine in conversation, right? That’s something I hope we can agree on. In particular, we often end with prepositions when asking questions: Who are you talking about? Where did he disappear to? What did you step on? Most of us would never speak these stiff, over-formal versions: About whom are you talking? To where did he disappear? On what did you step?

Back to writing. Despite the experts (the MoUS, Garner, Strunk & White) the supposed rule against ending propositions still causes lawyers to write sentences like this:

  • Attached are three local rules of which you should be aware.
  • A hammer, not an ax, was the weapon with which he struck the victim.
  • The deponent could not recall in which folder she saved the file.

These sentences are grammatically correct and have no ending prepositions, but to me they’re stilted and unnatural. They don’t flow.

One reason for these stilted sentences is that we know other legal writers believe the supposed rule, and we don’t want to risk annoying those readers or, worse, seeming semi-literate. And so the circle spins on. We know it’s okay to end with a preposition, but we also know some of our readers don’t know it’s okay, so we avoid doing it, perpetuating the no-ending-preposition practice.

What should we do? Rather than treat ending prepositions as wrong or right, a better approach is to think of them as a matter of formality and emphasis.

Ending with a preposition isn’t wrong. It’s less formal. That realization alone leads to some easy decisions. Appellate brief? A highly formal document for an audience whose grammar preferences you probably don’t know well. Avoid ending with prepositions. Memo to a supervisor? A moderately formal document for an audience whose preferences you might know. Unless the audience objects, an occasional ending preposition is acceptable. Work-related email to a colleague? An informal document to a well-known audience. Ending with prepositions is fine.

Ending with a preposition is also a matter of emphasis. You always have options, so you can always avoid ending with a preposition, but knowing when to do it requires experience and what we often call “a good ear.” Here’s an example.

Suppose you want to convey this idea:

  • Silver Partners refused to join any venture Hooper was part of.

That sentence strikes me as succinct and forceful. But you have several options that don’t end with a preposition.

  • Silver Partners refused to join any venture if Hooper was part of it.

Or this:

  • If Hooper was part of the venture, Silver Partners refused to join.

But don’t choose this option:

  • Silver Partners refused to join any venture of which Hooper was part.

It’s always possible to avoid ending with a preposition, and avoiding has no risk. But I offer these two points.

(1) Don’t write the stilted, ending-preposition work-arounds like that last example (of which Hooper was part); they sound unnatural and affected.

(2) If the preposition-ending sentence creates just the tone and emphasis you want, do it.

After all, there is no rule against ending a sentence with preposition.

Get the books:

Legal Writing Nerd: Be One
Plain Legal Writing: Do It

Improving Your Legal Writing Throughout Your Career

Introduction

Are the legal writing classes you had in law school the last writing training you’ll need for your career?

If you practice bankruptcy law, was a law-school course the last bankruptcy training you’ll need? I know the answer to that because I was a bankruptcy lawyer before I became a legal-writing teacher. The answer is no. You’ll need to stay current on bankruptcy law; you’ll need to read the recent cases and keep up with changes in the Bankruptcy Code; you’ll need to keep your knowledge and skills sharp.

The same is true for legal writing.

Legal writing is like any skill or any substantive topic: there’s always more to learn, and there’s always room for improvement. Here’s how in six parts.

Admit the truth

When I was a full-time practicing lawyer, I thought I was a good writer. I believed I was above average within the profession. I was 8 years into my job as a legal writing teacher before I realized I hadn’t been very good at all. I had been quite mediocre. I was poorly educated about the standards of high-level professional writing, and I was ignorant of my own limitations.

Was I unique?

Probably not. Many practicing lawyers believe themselves to be good writers, above average within the profession. I’ll let you be the judge of whether most lawyers are above average. I’ll simply say this:

The first step to becoming a good legal writer is to admit you have room to improve.

Get some references

Once you’ve admitted you have room to improve your writing—that you still have things to learn—start learning. A great way to learn about writing is to consult the experts. When you have a question about writing, don’t rely on half-remembered “rules” from high school English class. Look it up. But where?

The Internet works, and here are two websites I like:

But if you’re serious about legal writing, you should own some reference books, and here are three I recommend:

  • The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style, by Bryan A. Garner
  • The Texas Law Review Manual on Usage and Style
  • Just Writing: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for the Legal Writer, by Anne Enquist & Laurel Currie Oates

The idea is to have reliable references handy to answer questions: Do I need to capitalize appellant? How do I use the dash? Am I using shall (or which or ensure or infer or comprise) correctly? Plus, you inevitably increase your writing IQ whenever you serendipitously stumble upon an interesting entry.

Professional writers consult writing references, and you should, too.

Read the best books

If you’re really serious about improving, you’ll have to do more than consult references. You’ll have to study the principles of good writing and good legal writing. But how, when you’re busy?

Set a goal to read one book on writing every year. One per year. You can do that, right?

There are lots of good books on legal writing out there, and here are some I like:

  • Legal Writing Nerd: Be One by Wayne Schiess
  • Point Made by Ross Guberman
  • The Elements of Legal Style, by Bryan A. Garner
  • Lifting the Fog of Legalese by Joseph Kimble

These books are great sources of legal-writing knowledge, and they’re also well written. That’s why:

Reading the best books teaches you writing and exposes you to good writing.

Practice what you learn

You’re reading about writing and you’re consulting writing references. You’re becoming an informed legal writer. Now practice what you’re learning.

Of course, for any working lawyer, writing practice is part of the job: you’re writing all the time. Yet we all tend to rest on plateaus—we write in the same way we always have, with the same habits, the same mistakes. That’s why studying writing is so important. Practice without study is usually just repetition. So experiment with things you’re learning. Try new techniques and master new approaches to writing.

Through study and practice, you’ll become a better editor of your own work.

Edit better

We all understand that editing is a crucial part of the writing process. Most of us (and don’t assume you’re the exception) can’t produce high-quality writing in one draft (or even two). We must edit, and here are two suggestions for doing it better.

First, leave plenty of time, even though it’ll be hard to do. One expert on legal writing, Bryan Garner, has acknowledged that “the modern practice of law does not tolerate the type of revisory process necessary to produce a polished product.” Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 533 (3d ed. 2011). That may be true, but you should still try to give yourself more time to edit. How much time? One pro recommends half the time on a writing project. Debra Hart May, Proofreading Plain and Simple 46 (1997). Can you afford that? Can your clients? It’s up to you, but more editing means better writing.

Second, use more than one technique when editing:

Do you edit on the computer screen?

  • That’s fine, but it’s not enough. Do some editing on a hard copy, too; we read and react differently to screen text and printed text.

Do you read the text out loud?

  • That’s great: you’re using your ears, not just your eyes, to help you edit. Now go further and have a trusted colleague read it and suggest some edits.

Do you read the document in reverse, from the last sentence to the first?

  • Good. This technique tricks your mind, so you’re not familiar with the text; familiarity leads to poor editing. Now read only the topic sentences. Next read the opening and closing paragraphs.

Mediocre writing becomes good writing only through editing.

Accept critique

Now here’s the hardest part: seek and welcome critiques and candid suggestions for improving your writing. This one’s tough because it’s natural to be defensive about your writing—maybe even insecure. I know I am. But when I avoid critiques, I don’t improve much. I rest on a plateau.

So open yourself up to honest critique. Find a trusted colleague, friend, or supervisor, someone whose judgment and writing you respect. Then ask for suggestions and take them to heart.

The best writers are open to critique.

Good luck.

New book: Plain Legal Writing: Do It

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest book: Plain Legal Writing: Do It

 

Sometimes, lawyers write for other lawyers: supervisors, judges, opposing counsel, and more. But sometimes lawyers write documents they know must be read and understood by those without legal training. These are documents such as advice letters, home mortgages, credit-card agreements, divorce decrees, liability waivers. If you write legal content for nonlawyers, this book is for you. It shows you, step by step, how to produce plain-English documents, and it’s particularly useful if you’re working from a form or template written in traditional legalese.

And this one:

Mastering Appositives

The Two Types of Appositives: Restrictive and Nonrestrictive

An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that restates or renames another noun. Here, the noun Robin Lang restates or renames defendant:

  • The defendant, Robin Lang, did not hire a lawyer.

But properly punctuating appositives depends on the type of appositive, and the type depends on whether the appositive is essential or additional to the meaning of the original noun. The first type (essential) is called a restrictive appositive. This type of appositive renames or restates the noun in a way that is essential to a full understanding of the sentence. The appositive defines or restricts the original noun in a way that differentiates it from other nouns of that type. For example:

  • The politician Jordan Lopez gave the commencement address.

This sentence implies that there are multiple politicians and that the one who gave the commencement address was Jordan Lopez. That makes sense. If the appositive were set off with commas, it would create confusing implications:

  • The politician, Jordan Lopez, gave the commencement address.

This sentence implies that there is only one politician (in the world?) or that the politician is being differentiated from other nonpoliticians in some way. The commas are unnecessary. Another example using my own name:

  • The dean asked Wayne Schiess the legal-writing teacher to edit the manuscript.

This sentence implies that there are multiple people named Wayne Schiess and that the dean asked one of those Wayne Schiesses—the one who is a legal-writing teacher—to edit the manuscript. Thus, the sentence doesn’t really make sense and should be punctuated like this:

  • The dean asked Wayne Schiess, the legal-writing teacher, to edit the manuscript.

That example, with commas, is a nonrestrictive appositive. Nonrestrictive (also called “nonessential”) appositives present what might be considered additional information, offered as extra or “by the way.” You’d still have a sensible sentence without the appositive.

Returning to our first example:

  • The defendant, Robin Lang, did not hire a lawyer. This means–The defendant [, whose name is Robin Lang, by the way,] did not hire a lawyer. And without the appositive, it would still make sense–The defendant did not hire a lawyer.

Besides a pair of commas, you have other punctuation options for nonrestrictive appositives. If the restating phrase comes at the end of the sentence, use a comma and a period:

  • The party who did not hire a lawyer was the defendant, Robin Lang.

And you may set off appositives with a pair of parentheses, a pair of dashes, or a dash and a period:

  • The defendant (Robin Lang) did not hire a lawyer.
  • The defendant—Robin Lang—did not hire a lawyer.
  • The party who did not hire a lawyer was the defendant—Robin Lang.

The most common mistake I see in using nonrestrictive appositives is failing to include the second comma:

  • Wrong: The defendant, Robin Lang did not hire a lawyer.
  • Wrong: Equitable adoption, a common-law doctrine may apply even in the absence of a court order.

The first example needs a comma after Lang; the second needs one after doctrine.

The differences between restrictive and nonrestrictive appositives come up occasionally in legal writing. If there is only one party on a particular side (one buyer, one defendant, one appellee), then the appositive is likely to be nonrestrictive:

  • The buyer, National Insurance, retained its trial counsel to handle the transaction.

But if there are multiple parties on one side, a restrictive appositive may be appropriate (depending on the context).

  • The respondent Taylor Mura refused to cooperate with the respondent Media Group, LLC.

And of course, in legal writing, we sometimes omit the article the before party appellations:

  • Respondent Taylor Mura refused to cooperate with respondent Media Group, LLC.

Properly punctuating appositives isn’t always simple, but it’s a fundamental and basic skill in legal writing. It’s something careful writers do well.

Legal Writing Nerd: Be One