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‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse’ is a well-known phrase. Judges are responsible when the law is badly expressed in their judgments. Furthermore, it is a joy to read good writing, not just novels and essays, but judgments as well – after all, every court case is itself a story.
The rules (and their exceptions) are not much different from the rules of good writing generally, but a judgment of a court has specific objectives. It determines the rights of the parties and lays down the orders that they have to obey. To achieve this, the judgment and orders must not only be reasonable and right, they have to be clear. Secondly, the judgment ought to explain why the judge ruled as he did. To do this, the facts must be set out and the dispute clearly enunciated.
Guberman’s book helps judges perform this basic task with effective advice and some fine examples. If judges read this book and can discipline themselves to follow it recommends, there will be few badly written judgments. A judgment must not only be right; it must read right.
Ross Guberman has followed his first-rate book about advocacy writing with an equally excellent one -- the best available -- about judicial writing. It should be a mandatory study for all judges and clerks. Although it covers every aspect of the craft of writing clear and persuasive opinions, it does so with a crispness and clarity that make it a pleasure to read. It has the great virtue of providing direct, easy-to-follow advice without trying to pretend that there's only one good way to organize an opinion, or only one style that's appropriate for judicial writing. To drive home that point, it backs up its advice with a treasure-house of examples from well-crafted opinions that both make the advice come to life and demonstrate the range of ways in which it can be effectively applied. Steve Armstrong, co-author of Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer's Guide to Effective Writing and Editing (3rd edition)
A common piece of advice for legal writing is to "quote sparingly and thoughtfully." This book gives that advice but does not take it. Instead, it buries a couple pages of good advice in a couple hundred pages of quotations. In that sense, this book is more of an homage to a number of noteworthy judges than it is a useful guide to opinion-writing. As to its content, this book offers some interesting insights, but much of its advice is superficial or is already well-covered in other legal writing guides. I was excited to buy this book, but was rather unimpressed by reading it.