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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "Legal writing" [2009] LegEdDig 45; (2009) 17(3) Legal Education Digest 53


Legal Writing

Lisa Webley

Routledge-Cavendish, 2010, 151 pp

This is the second edition of a book first published in 2005. It is unique in that it is written by an English academic in a field which until recently was dominated by North American authors. In fact the topic of Legal Writing is very much an integral part of American legal studies, recognised as forming a basic foundation of legal education in the USA but a neglected form of the curriculum in most other Common Law Jurisdictions.

In the Introduction the author reminds the reader of the importance to lawyers of effective communication, but: ‘that law degrees in the UK, in contrast to their US cousins rarely focus on writing skills.’

This view was emphasised in an article by Professor John Sexton, who was then the Dean of the NYU Law School in their Law School Magazine’s Autumn 2000 Edition. In this article, which was a report of Professor Sexton’s keynote address to the American Bar Association’s Conference in August of that year, he spoke of the: ‘ the lawyer’s task to communicate – whether by writing a contract, or making an oral argument, or advising a client. Lawyering is about words, and meaning, and communication, and understanding. Regulatory interpretation or statutory analysis is about words, and meaning, and communication, and understanding.’

Although the text concentrates mainly on how to deal with writing tasks with which the law student is faced during University law studies, Lisa Webley does focus in a similar fashion to John Sexton’s delivery in respect of: ‘ Excellent written work is a culmination of a number of factors coming together. It is a product of a good written style that communicates the ideas in the right way to the relevant audience. Excellent written work focuses on the main issues that have been raised by the question or scenario.’ The author emphasizes that the student needs to ensure that such written work ‘culminates in a well-considered conclusion that sums up the analysis that you have provided, as a final answer to the question. But it does help for the writer to understand what they are trying to communicate, to what end and to whom.’

In the nine chapters which compose the text, the author covers all the types of written tasks incorporated into the normal law curriculum, specifically during the early part of the law program. These include dealing with the nature of various examining methods, such as assignments, problem questions, essays, dissertations and the answering of examination questions. The text also incorporates explanations of the various methods of referencing and thereby assists the student in avoiding committing any form of plagiarism.

The book contains all the appropriate forms of layout with regard to summaries, flow charts, and helpful inserts with the use of a contrasting colour, to ensure that it is an effective method of assisting the student.

There is a helpful section described as ‘Answers to Questions.’ However this is very much an understatement in that it contains some excellent analysis of specimen extracts which will encourage the law student to develop a high level of self-confidence when applying the skills which they will have acquired by reading and applying themselves to the earlier part of the book. In addition there is a useful bibliography and index.

The book is also supported by a new companion website which incorporates a number of online resources expanding on much of the matters raised in the body of the text including multiple choice questions relating to correct referencing.

There is much to commend this book particularly with regard to the fact that the author has attempted to create a text which will hold the student’s interest, arouse their enthusiasm, and encourage them to develop their own style of writing.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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