Tweets, Blawgs and Apps: Use Your Phone To Become a Better Legal Writer

By Laura Graham

If you’re reading this column, it’s a safe bet that you have a smartphone within reach. Depending on whose numbers you believe, upwards of 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone. And for Americans in the Millennial Generation, that number tops 90 percent. Our smartphones have become indispensable tools in many facets of life.

Although I am tethered to my smartphone like so many others, until recently, I had not thought much about how it could help me become a better legal writer (and a better legal writing teacher). But lately, I’ve been hearing and reading about some of the legal writing resources at my fingertips, so to speak. So I thought I would share some of those resources with you.

Find this and more in the February edition of North Carolina Lawyer magazine online and in your mailbox.

In the Twitterverse

I’m a relative novice to Twitter, and I’m more of a lurker than a tweeter. But I’ve had fun discovering the many great Twitter feeds maintained by legal writing colleagues, judges, and attorneys offering advice on writing effectively. Here are three of my favorites:

#LegalWriting — This hashtag group collects posts by legal writing professors from across the country, as well as others who are interested in promoting legal writing excellence. They offer legal writing tips, retweet links to helpful articles, and ask each other for legal writing advice. For example, last month, legal writing expert Ross Guberman retweeted an article on the ABA’s website called “Judge: 10 musts for your briefs and motions,” which summarizes Guberman’s survey of over 1,000 trial and appellate judges about what they want to read in briefs and motions. And recently, Professor Jennifer Romig of Emory Law tweeted a short piece about “not using a $10 word when a 10¢ word will do.”

#AppellateTwitter —This hashtag has a large following of both practitioners and academics, many of whom tweet about legal writing. For example, in one recent thread, attorneys and academics debated the wisdom of using footnotes in briefs. And in December (on Christmas night, in fact), an Alabama attorney tweeted asking for advice: Brief due tomorrow. Have only 1 viable issue on appeal IMO. Only possible other issue is insufficiency of evidence but there’s no meat there. Do I still raise the issue? Am I obligated to address it even though it should fail? Upon receiving dozens of responses in short order, she tweeted again: And this thread is why I love #AppellateTwitter. It’s Christmas night, and a bunch of brilliant attorneys are offering me great counsel. Thanks you guys.

@legalwritingpro — This is the Twitter feed of Ross Guberman, author of “Point Made, Point Taken” and “Deal Struck” and President of Legal Writing Pro. As busy as I am, I always try to find time each day to skim Guberman’s feed, and I almost always find something new and instructive. Guberman often tweets fun polls about matters of grammar and legal writing style, inviting followers to weigh in. The writing nerd in me loves to see if I can select the best answer and to read Guberman’s accompanying explanation of why a particular answer is best. Guberman also frequently posts excerpts from motions, briefs, and judicial opinions highlighting either what the writers did well or what the writers did poorly. I respect Guberman’s analysis, which is based on years of experience working with judges and practitioners to promote excellence in legal writing. By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to get your hands on Guberman’s article, “Judges Speaking Softly: What They Long For.” It’s one of the best summaries I’ve ever read of what legal writers should strive for when writing to a court; I’d even call it a “must-read.”

In The Blawgosphere

There are several law-related blogs (blawgs) that focus on legal writing; here are a few of my favorites:

The Legal Writing Prof Blog adds posts two or three times a week; some posts offer specific advice about particular matters of legal writing style, and others link readers to helpful articles by legal writing experts.

LawProse is Bryan Garner’s blog, where he posts legal writing tips. For example, this post appeared in October:

LawProse Lesson #316: A key to revising effectively.

Try this when revising: Mark your changes on a hard copy — in ink. Then enter your changes yourself. You’ll find that merely touching the keys sharpens your thoughts. You’ll be making more revisions as you go, especially toward an appropriate copiousness of thought. You’ll cut later, to be sure, but one aspect of early revision is to ensure that you haven’t left ideas underdeveloped.

I find these short reminders helpful when I am working on a writing project of my own and need a little inspiration; I also enjoy sharing them with my students.

Lady (Legal) Writer is run by Megan E. Boyd, an attorney and legal writing professor at Georgia State University College of Law. The posts on this blog are fewer in number than the posts on many other blogs, but they are worth the wait. Boyd enjoys writing about legal writing style viewed through the lens of significant jurists, and she also “reviews” briefs filed in high-profile cases. I enjoy skimming this blog periodically because it points me to recent examples of good and not-so-good legal writing that I can learn from and share with my students.

In The App Store

There are many apps, some of them free, that can assist legal writers with their task. A good up-to-date list of some of the best apps can be found at the LSU Law Library webpage, (http://libguides.law.lsu.edu/c.php?g=191398&p=1263989). You’ll recognize some of the ones listed below; they’re staples of the lawyer’s craft, but now they are more easily accessible than ever.

Black’s Law Dictionary 10th Edition — This app is published by Thomson Reuters and costs $54.99.
Burton’s Legal Thesaurus — This app is published by McGraw-Hill and costs $49.99.

Rulebook — This comprehensive app is billed as “the #1 mobile law library app.” When you download the free app, you get free ac-cess to the United States Constitution and certain historical docu-ments. Once in the app, you can purchase access to the Bluebook, perhaps the most helpful feature of the app for legal writers. (You can also purchase access to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Manual on Usage & Style, and the Manual for Complex Litigation.)

Cite-Checker — This app is published by Wolters Kluwer and costs around $1.99. This app is marketed as a “[g]uide to basic Bluebook citation with overview and plain English explanation of rules for federal and state cases, federal and state statutes, books, law review articles, and Restatements. Also contains guides to punctuation and quotations.” This app has apparently not been updated since 2013, so it may not sync perfectly with the current edition of the Bluebook. But because citation form for many common types of authority — cases, statutes, regulations, and law re-view articles, for example — has not changed for many years, the app should still be helpful to legal writers who need to quickly check their cite form.

Legal Writing — (http://mylegalwritingcoach.messagepixels.com/). My Legal Writing offers two free apps for iPhone and iPad: My Legal Writing: Techniques and My Legal Writing: Memos. My Legal Writing: Techniques “focus[es] on editing steps you can take to make reading any legal writing project faster and easier.  A document edited to assist reader speed and understanding not only improves your reader’s progress through the document but can also make your message understood, and, importantly, make the reader want to read your writing.” Memos is “designed for newer lawyers, law students (including students in internships, externships, clinical experiences, or clerkships), and others who want to improve their legal memo writing efficiency and quality. . . . Memos guides you through the memo writing process, offering practical, real-world strategies for getting your work done.  It provides instruction, examples, and checklists for researching and writing legal memoranda.”

If you have discovered other Twitter pages, blawgs, or apps that have helped you with your legal writing projects, please email me; I would be happy to do a follow-up column to spotlight them. And of course, I’m always on the hunt for new topics to write about; I always appreciate your suggestions.

Laura Graham, Director of Legal Analysis, Writing & Research, is a professor of legal writing at Wake Forest University School of Law, where she has taught for 20 years. She welcomes email from readers at grahamlp@wfu.edu.

I’m indebted to my colleagues at Chapman University Fowler School of Law, Abigail Pathoff, Jenny Carey, and Stephanie Lascelles, who gave a very informative presentation on Twitter for legal writers at the 2018 Legal Writing Institute One-Day Workshop in November.