Oregon State Bar Bulletin — DECEMBER 2008
The Legal Writer
A Shopper’s Guide:
Gifts for your legal writer
By Suzanne E. Rowe

The holidays are upon us. In case you have not yet banished gift-giving and its associated stresses, the following suggestions may appeal to the legal writer on your gift list. They’re an assortment of gifts I’ve received, gifts I hope to receive, and ideas from friends who are more creative shoppers than I am.

Of course, after a day of shopping for others, you certainly deserve an itsy, bitsy gift for yourself, too.

Books on Writing
A book on writing may be the perfect gift for someone who loves writing. Dictionaries, style manuals and more esoteric tomes can delight even the surliest curmudgeon.

One of my dearest gifts was the latest edition of my favorite dictionary. Familiar, but new, I loved it instantly. If you’re searching for a new dictionary, consider one that adds some spice to the usual fare of pronunciations and definitions. For example, the usage sections of my New Oxford American Dictionary have made for many an enjoyable winter evening as I sit with my toes near the fire.

Is your legal writer struggling along without one of the basics — or frequently borrowing yours? If so, consider bestowing upon him or her a personal copy of The Chicago Manual of Style or whatever book is most often missing from your shelves. Since getting my own copy of Chicago, I haven’t had to worry about whether my sticky notes and highlighting are interfering with anyone else’s enjoyment.

On my wish list this year is The Barnhardt Concise Dictionary of Etymology: The Origins of American English Words. Its front flap promises that browsing the pages of this book "is like exploring the historical, political, and rhetorical wonderland of our linguistic heritage." How have I survived without it for so long? Yes, other etymological dictionaries exist, but a first-year law student recommended this one to me. I can’t resist.

Books and Magazines
Those who appreciate good writing often enjoy good reading, too. Though few of us devote the amount of time we’d like to reading, a new book is generally welcomed. Because everyone in Oregon (or is it just Eugene?) belongs to a book club, getting suggestions for a title that matches the tastes of your legal writer should be easy. If you still need ideas, consider a book of speeches or letters; both tend to be very well written. Or take a humorous approach and give a book like Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

As an alternative, you could encourage the legal writer to create a wish list on amazon.com. A low tech version is to ask for a list written by hand — this person is a legal writer, right? Even easier is a gift certificate to a local bookstore with character. Who couldn’t spend hours in Ashland’s Bloomsbury Books?

If your legal writer already has a stack of unread books piling up, try a different tack. A subscription to a magazine may offer brief forays into good reading without the guilt of yet another unfinished book on the pile. The New Yorker is just one example of a magazine with well-written essays, fiction and poetry.

Book Accessories
For the legal writer who has plenty of reading material, consider reading accessories. These range from sturdy furniture to fanciful bookmarks.

I’m jealous each time I enter a living room and see a book stand holding a well- used and clearly beloved dictionary. Lest you think jealousy over a mere book stand is odd, my friend Rebekah shares the same sentiment. In fact, the last time she saw such a display her immediate reaction was, "I want one!" I’ve moved beyond that to "I need one!" We’re as enthusiastic as two kids in a toy store. (I’m not sure I trust my husband’s appreciation for fine furniture, though, so I may have to buy this little, tiny trinket for myself.)

If the legal writer on your list needs a bit of aid in reading the fine print, consider a classic magnifying glass. It would look lovely laying casually by the dictionary on the book stand. Or perhaps a new, snazzy pair of reading glasses. Or two pairs, for those of us who can lose a pair per day.

For a smaller gift, consider bookmarks. Most bookstores provide an array that extends from purely functional to admirably artistic. Bookmarks are the perfect gift for the friend who always returns books with dog-eared pages or with a boarding pass from the last flight holding a key page. A bonus for the giver is that bookmarks don’t need to be wrapped; just tuck one — or several — inside a holiday card.

Writing Tools
Anyone still using pen and paper to write will likely appreciate a gift of pen and paper. Pens should have a sensual feel resting against the skin between thumb and forefinger. They should be in pleasing colors. They need not be outrageously expensive. My father gave me a classic pen and pencil set decades ago that I still have and still enjoy.

The rarity of a written letter — the kind that moves by snail mail — means the paper on which it is written deserves to be special in some way. Texture? Color? Size? Visit a nearby paper store and appreciate the ancient beauty of paper. One of my favorite spots in Portland is Oblation Papers & Press in the Pearl.

The little moleskin notebooks allegedly used by Hemingway make great list keepers or travel companions. My assistant gave me my first one before I went to Mexico. I still appreciate the sturdy binding, the elastic that keeps the pages from getting crunched, and the memories that poured out while I was embracing moments of creative writing. Recognizing a market, the company now makes these books specifically for travel, with city maps and other important information.

Writing Novelties
Another favorite gift was a t-shirt that asks, "Does anal retentive have a hyphen?" I wear it each fall when I introduce a new class of first-year law students to legal citation. (The answer is, of course, "It depends.")

Websites are filled with shirts, mugs, aprons, pins, hats, calendars and other novelties for your legal writer. Many are emblazoned with quips. A current favorite quote is "Bad Grammar Makes Me [sic]." I hope one day to get a mug that says, "Old legal writers never die; they just slip into a comma." Some calendars provide a grammar mistake a day, often in an amusing context.

Time to Write
A treasured gift for any writer is time alone, uninterrupted, to write. Unless your favorite legal writer is a hermit with no children who eats only the spiders crawling around his cave, you can provide a few precious hours of time by taking care of life’s essentials. This person might appreciate gift certificates for house cleaning or coupons for babysitting and cooking.

The Best Gift
If your legal writer is also a family member or close friend, the best gift you can give is time with you — uninterrupted by work.

Happy Holidays!

Suzanne E. Rowe is an associate professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, where she directs the Legal Research and Writing Program. As the Luvaas Faculty Fellow for 2008-2009, she is grateful to the Luvaas Faculty Fellowship Endowment Fund for support of her articles in The Legal Writer. Her email is srowe@uoregon.edu. She appreciates the contributions of Rebekah Hanley to this article.

© 2008 Suzanne E. Rowe

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