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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Your writing matters. Learn the rules of grammar.

Today's article in the Wall Street Journal, "This Embarrasses You and I [sic]" (here), is a perfect illustration of why good writing is so important.  Bad writing (poor grammar, poor spelling, poor analysis, verbosity) makes you look dumb. 

In today's job market, where there are far too many lawyers trying to get (or keep) far too few positions, you need to remember the three things good lawyers do:

1.  They're good at analyzing problems and coming up with viable solutions.
2.  They communicate well.
3.  They're ethical.

That's what you need to be a good--maybe eventually great--lawyer.  Fancy law degrees are great, but they'll only get you in the door.  Your own performance is what keeps you there.

Here's a comparison for you to remember:  I want my surgeon to be able to communicate well with me.  Surgeons cut.  They think about cutting; they cut; they think about the cuts they've done.  Writing isn't a job requirement, per se, but I sure want what my surgeon writes in my medical files to be accurate and understandable.  If my surgeon didn't know the basic rules of grammar, I'd start obsessing about what other gaps he had in his education.  And lawyers actually are supposed to write well, so it's even more important for you to prove that you know the writing rules.

To steal a line (or to do a jazz riff on it--I couldn't find the exact quote) from Oprah:  be your best self.


  1. I can't believe this is even under discussion, Nancy. In what world what I want to hire a lawyer who can't produce concise, readable and grammatically correct writing? If a legal professional doesn't have the self-discipline to learn proper grammar, what hope does he/she have of being properly equipped to represent my legal case?!

    I can forgive the "This Embarrasses You and I [sic]" - this person obviously cares about grammar, but has applied a rule too liberally without understanding we don't always use "I", but if a legal professional has just finished their gdl courses and is unable to properly express themselves in written form, then that is very worrying. I would imagine most law firms, especially those who deal with corporate clients, are likely to hold the same view as me... they need to release perfect documentation to their clients and they will avoid hiring staff like this so they don't look unprofessional.

    I'm not saying lawyers need to understand the finer details of thuses, therewithins and other archaic grammar, but they need to be able to write a sentence that doesn't raise eyebrows in the boardroom or courtroom. What do you think, Nancy?

    1. I'm so glad you posted this comment! I was just talking with a lawyer in Montana about how important writing is when he's deciding whether to hire an associate. He actually wants to see a candidate's written work--not just the transcript from law school--before considering the candidate for a permanent position.

      Once we get law students to realize that, if they write poorly, they don't look as smart as they actually are, maybe we'll get somewhere.


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