Oregon State Bar Bulletin NOVEMBER 2015
The Legal Writer
By Suzanne E. Rowe
Back in April, I wrote about the virtues of brevity in legal writing. To make my point that less can be more, I harkened back to Hemingway, who has been credited with a six-word novel:
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
Those six poignant words tell a story that is powerful in part because it is so spare. Perhaps there’s a lesson for the verbose among us (and which lawyer hasn’t been verbose occasionally?)
I challenged you as readers to test how much you can say in six words. I asked for any documents that lawyers write: demand letters, contracts, wills, case briefs, statements of facts, arguments, opinions and so on. The catch, of course, was to match Hemingway’s six-word limit.
To prime the pump, I offered a case brief of Palsgraf and a cover letter:
Push! Explosion! Falling scales! No liability.1
Motivated graduate needs experience, then job.
Your responses were creative, entertaining and, of course, brief. The best appear below under appropriate headings. In addition to my suggested topics, you wrote about patent law and philosophy, and even offered an advertising slogan for a divorce lawyer.
Although these legal “documents” are short and this article is correspondingly brief, I urge you not to rush through. Take a deep breath, read each document, ponder the full story the document tells, and enjoy the virtue of brevity.
“Brief” Case Briefs
Cannibals for necessity? No defense. Murder.2
Absent? No consent? No personal jurisdiction.3
Hairy hand. Promised 100%. Owed difference.4
Mousetrap communicates with smartphone; deserves patent.
Offer and Acceptance
“No place like home” slippers: $2,000,000.
You dig. I pay. Sign here.
Paint for money? Yes, Tuesday. Consideration.
You’re liable, you lied, you’ll pay.
Stop everything you’re doing, or else.
You did wrong, so pay up.
No, you cannot halve the kids.
See You in Court
Payment overdue. Sue you later, alligator.
Society cannot progress without stare decisis.
A few readers did Hemingway better than six words. Here’s a very brief form of judgment:
And the grand finale is a one-word sentence from an appellate brief:
1. Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928).
2. The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens, 14 Queens Bench Division 273 (1884).
3. Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1878).
4. Hawkins v. McGee, 146 A. 641 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Supreme_Court 1929).
5. Tressel v. Tressel, 162 Or. App. 188 (1999).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Suzanne E. Rowe is the James L. and Ilene R. Hershner Professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, where she directs the legal research and writing program..
An archive of The Legal Writer articles is available here.
© 2015 Suzanne E. Rowe