Legal writing is known for being stuffy and arcane. The terminology can
be hard for lay readers to understand, and the writing is often dull.
One of the hardest things for new law students is learning the lingo of
old court opinions and articles.
Fortunately, that is changing. Slowly but surely, lawyers and judges have
been loosening up and writing in a more accessible style. Even in federal
court, which is even more formal than state court, one can find some prose
which defies stereotypes.
A federal court opinion from Miami caught my attention last week. It involved
something which would typically make people’s eyes glaze over: a
franchise termination dispute. However, the franchise involved was a doughnut
shop, and the judge apparently decided to have some fun with the case.
The opinion starts like this:
Doughnuts usually make people happy. National Doughnut Day is celebrated
in the United States on the first Friday of June of each year. Parry Gripp,
a singer songwriter and the lead vocalist and guitarist for the pop punk
bank Nerf Herder, wrote a song called “One Donut a Day,” which
has nothing but good things to say about the edible, deep fried delight:
“One donut a day, and everything’s gonna be okay. Hey! Eat
a donut a day, And everything’s gonna be o-o-o-o-o okay.”
Much more discussion about the virtues of doughnuts follows. The judge
even name-drops Justin Timberlake by mentioning one of his videos which
features a doughnut shop.
Eventually and dutifully, the judge does get to the subject at hand:
This lawsuit is about doughnuts. Specifically, it is about a doughnut franchise
agreement. But, despite the usually positive, festive atmosphere surrounding
doughnuts, the doughnut operation in this case has not generated much
happiness among the parties to this lawsuit. To the contrary, the doughnut
business at issue here has generated disputes and bad feelings, not to
This is not the only case in a which has judge has relaxed a little. Another
one of my favorite opinions was written by a judge who was fed up with
constant bickering between lawyers. The judge ordered the disagreeable
lawyers to play a game of “rock, paper, scissors” to resolve
a dispute about where witness statements (depositions, as lawyers call
them) would be taken. Besides being funny, it was a fitting way to deal
with such a petty dispute.
The law isn’t degraded by legal writing which is written clearly
and with humor. To the contrary, it’s enhanced by it. It’s
much easier for people to read colorful and amusing opinions than ones
which comes off as dull as ditchwater.
Our profession needs more of this type of thing. Let’s hope the trend