The need for good prose.

“You would have no confidence in a carpenter whose tools were dull and rusty. Lawyers possess only one tool to convey their thoughts: language. They must acquire and hone the finest, most effective version of that tool available. They must love words and use them exactly. – Scalia and Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges

Just this year I moved out my personal library into the living room and filled the shelves in my room with law books. Before the move, I could see Hemingway, Marquez, Lewis, and Tolkien whenever I walked inside my room from a tough day at school. Now one of the shelves is filled up with Civil Law Commentaries of JBL Reyes and Tolentino, the maroon sentinels who watch over my room. It’s definitely more convenient but proportionately more boring. It’s not that those civil law authors write badly, perhaps it just a longing for some variety. It’s not like I would pick up one of Tolentino’s volumes one Sunday afternoon, brew a cup of coffee and read about the validity of auto-contracts. But I would pick up The Sun Also Rises just to read one chapter about bullfights.

I have this lurking suspicion that law school is systematically exposing us to bad writing and not giving a damn about it. Every class we are assigned cases to read, some short and some long. I would assume though that these cases are assigned for their doctrines and illustrations and not for their writing. And the irritating part is that most of the decisions are so badly written. Legalese might sound intellectual on paper, maybe even  comprehensible, but it simply sounds ridiculous in spoken English. Lawyers also have a tendency towards verbosity. Everything seems to be longer when a lawyer writes it: emails, texts, you name it.

Back in freshman year, I cannot remember if any of these turned up in Legal Method. All I remember is trying to figure out what the parts of  decision were and what some Latin maxims meant.

It’s just a bit funny how every class crams so much content that’s all readily available in this or that reviewer. Cases come and go but most of them are forgotten just as soon as the class is over. And there’s nothing special in remembering doctrines without the good writing to express it. Alas, that’s not included in the Bar coverage and therefore, the school doesn’t care.


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