Plain Language for Lawyers

My discovery of Richard Wydick’s Plain Language for Lawyers was serendipitous.

I had started sending out weekly writing tips by e-mail at my firm and was in constant need of new material (and I still am).

Someone on my street had left a box of books at the kerbside, for passers-by to take what appealed to them. On the top of the pile was the fifth edition of Wydick’s excellent book.

Its messages are simple and important:

  • omit surplus words
  • use base verbs, not nominalisations
  • prefer the active voice
  • use short sentences
  • arrange your words with care
  • choose your words with care
  • avoid elegant quirks
  • punctuate carefully

Richard Wydick died in 2016, and I was very grateful to receive permission from his family and publisher to quote from the fifth edition in my own book on legal writing (which collected those weekly emails).

A sixth edition of Plain Language for Lawyers has now appeared thanks to Amy E. Sloan of the Baltimore School of Law.

It preserves the basic structure and ‘classic features’ of the 5th, but adds a new chapter on document design, updates to some of the material and new exercises.

Recommended reading for all legal writers. And if you can’t find a free copy among a neighbour’s discards, it’s only US$25 from Carolina Academic Press.

I’m not leaving either edition by the side of the road.

And I’m hoping I can cite Wydick 6th in the second edition of Guthrie’s Guide.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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