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Legal Writing Doesn't Have to Be Dry and Dull

Legal Writing Doesn't Have to Be Dry and Dull

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 mention litigation.

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 continues.

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