The Elements of Legal Style

Elements of Legal Style

(Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2002)

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Inspired by the Strunk-and-White classic, this book tackles the daunting task of explaining what distinguishes good from poor writing style, with examples from such legal writers as Holmes, Cardozo, Jackson, Scalia, and Easterbrook. Its pages feature the clearest explanation to be found on organizing arguments, plus one-of-a-kind illustrations of rhetorical figures in law, an inspiring essay on how to approach legal style, and more. The appendix records 82 classic statements about writing style.

Since the first edition was published in 1991, The Elements of Legal Style has established itself as the authoritative guide on all the major issues of writing style in law. Now its coverage has been expanded in this second edition, which features additional sections, many more examples, and a thoroughly researched appendix that contains 80 major statements on prose style — what it is and how to attain it.

This book clearly (often wittily) explains the full range of what legal writers need to know: mechanics, word choices, structure, and rhetoric, as well as all the special conventions that legal writers should follow in using headings, defined terms, quotations, and many other devices.

But unlike the Strunk-and-White book, The Elements of Legal Style is written for lawyers, law students, judges, and their law clerks — for anyone who writes about the law. With board experience as a practitioner, academic, and writing consultant, Bryan Garner knows firsthand where legal writing so often goes wrong, and he pays particular attention to these trouble spots.

Garner is an acknowledged expert not just on legal literature but also on the practical mechanics of showing modern legal writers how to achieve their goals. The text is framed by an inspiring introduction and an equally inspiring afterword. In between are orderly explanations of how to write both correctly and forcefully, with abundant examples meticulously chosen from the best legal writers of yesterday and today, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Clarence Darrow, Frank Easterbrook, and Antonin Scalia.

Both beginning legal writers and more seasoned ones will find that this book is an unparalleled resource. And its exhaustive index puts everything within its covers at your fingertips.

Praise for The Elements of Legal Style:

“Publishers each year spew out writing books for law students by the dozen. Forget them. This is the best.”

The ABA Appellate Practice Journal

“Garner upholds the spirit of Strunk & White and advances the cause of good writing in a field in which it is sorely lacking.”

Harvard Law Review

“Every lawyer who puts pen to paper should own a copy of The Elements of Legal Style. As interesting as it is informative. Garner’s Elements is a book that you will want on your desk, not on your bookshelf.”

The Houston Lawyer

“It is expansive, instructive, witty, and wise. If you care about legal writing, you need this book.”

Michigan Bar Journal

The Elements of Legal Style promises to serve the legal profession in the same way that The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White has so admirably served all writers for so many years. Bryan Garner will undoubtedly be the standard bearer for the next generation.”

New York Law Journal

“A major contribution to legal writing….Every lawyer who writes will need a desk copy.”

Judge Griffin B. Bell, Former Attorney General