Monday, June 3, 2013

Scribes Guidelines for Excellence in Law Reviews

In 2011, The Scrivener released the Scribes Guidelines for Excellence in Law Reviews written by Scribes board members Bryan A. Garner and Richard C. Wydick.

Below are the main points:

Every member of a law review should be required to buy and learn the current editions of these books:
  • The citation manual the law review uses (e.g., The Bluebook or ALWD).
  • Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing.
  • Bryan A. Garner's The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style.
Each edit suggested by a new member of the review should be supported by citation to one of those texts. 

A law review office should have in its library current editions of the following books:
  • Two copies of each of the three books listed above.
  • Black's Law Dictionary.
  • Wydick, Plain English for Lawyers.
  • Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage. 
  • Kimble, Lifting the Fog of Legalese.
  • Trimble, Writing with Style.
  • Garner, The Elements of Legal Style.
Anyone wishing to become an editor of the law review should be able to certify that he or she has read at least three of the books listed above. 

It is also advised to do the following:
  • Fret about the opener of each piece: an interesting lead that immediately predisposes readers to continue (be wary of stultifying "roadmaps").
  • Insist on good, idiomatic English of the kind to be found in such publications as The New Yorker or The Economist and other first-rate nonfiction publications.
  • Delete every unnecessary paragraph, sentence, and word.
  • Footnote sensibly, not rabidly. Use your head -- and repeal any "rule" that requires a footnote after every sentence.
  • As a tonic to your style, as as a caution to your members, have everyone affiliated with your law review read Fred Rodell's Goodbye to Law Reviews -- Revisited, 48 Va. L. Rev. 279 (1962). While you're at it, you should also read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," 4 The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell 127 (1968) (and widely reprinted). 
These are great guidelines for law review editors. In addition to their list of recommended reading, I would also have editors read William Zinsser's On Writing Well. I just had a chance to read this book for the first time, and as a former law review editor and current Scholarly Writing professor, I know that this book gives a lot of great tips on writing nonfiction. It's also an enjoyable read, which isn't always the case with these types of books.

Many of the ideas in the guidelines are modern trends in academic legal writing that have not totally caught on. We still footnote rabidly and use roadmaps. The footnoting issue can be difficult when dealing with student writers. Law students writing scholarly articles are generally not considered experts in a field, so they footnote heavily to substantiate their arguments. It may be less important for legal scholars who are experts in their field to rabidly footnote, but I think that many law review or journals could easily reject a student comment or casenote for a lack of footnotes.

In the meantime, I will continue to advocate these guidelines to my institution's legal publications as their library liaison.


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