“There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.”
This quote and the law review article it comes from (entitled “Goodbye to Law Reviews“) is new to me. I came across it via Edward Tufte whose superb books and website are also, for different reasons, well worth a read. Most – all? – of these brilliant criticisms from 1936 remain true today. Though I don’t think the problem is, as the New York Times argues, that US law reviews are student run, and I think the article misses a criticism that many scholarly law articles are simply too long and, in an attempt to be comprehensive, stray too far from the core argument.
“I doubt that there are so many as a dozen professors of law in this whole country who could write an article about law, much less about anything else, and sell it, substantially as written, to a magazine of general circulation.”
This quote, from the somewhat later (1962) follow-up article, “Goodbye to Law Reviews – Revisited“, continues the theme, and – sadly – remains true. I can only think of Larry Lessig and Tim Wu who have achieved something comparable. So a dozen may be an exaggeration. If lawyers can’t explain what they do and why, is it any surprise that the law and the legal profession is often held in such low regard?
There has been a recent example of the a piece of ‘breakout’ legal writing in the UK. If the late Tom Bingham can make his ‘Rule of Law’ an award winning bestseller there is some hope for us all.