I’ve been meaning to write a post on Ross Guberman’s new book, Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates, for a while now.
Ross, you’ll recall, wrote an analytical piece called “Five Ways to Write Like John Roberts,” which I bastardized in a post called “I am John Roberts and So Can You!” The original article was very good. It distilled five important writing lessons from the Chief’s brief in Alaska v. EPA. My post? Not so much.
After that incident, I figured that Ross and I were finished. Done. Kaput . . . but I was wrong.
A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Point Made in the mail, free and unsolicited. It made my day. I guess Ross and I aren’t on such bad terms, after all.
Since the book was right up my alley (and I was actually working my way through a less impressive legal writing book at the time), I dove right in.
Point Made is writing-nerd nirvana–essentially, the Roberts piece on steroids. Guberman has analyzed the writing of fifty top lawyers, and distilled fifty writing lessons. His text is interspersed with quotations from the source material. So if, for example, you like seeing how Maureen Mahoney uses lists or distinguishes contrary authority–and you know we do–Point Made is your kind of book. It instantly won a place on my short list of favorite legal-writing books, alongside the Curmudgeon and the Garner canon.
Here’s the sort of stuff it delivers: Point Made starts out, logically enough, with four chapters on how to write a compelling introduction. They basically give you a checklist:
- Brass tacks. Start out by telling the court who, what, where, when, and why.
- The short list. List the three or four points that you’d make to a judge who gave you 60 seconds to explain why you should win. And use the word “because” in each point (at least in your first draft), to make sure that you’re operating at the requisite level of specificity.
- Why should I care? Explain why the court should feel good about ruling your way.
- Don’t be fooled. Draw a line in the sand between two competing views of the dispute (e.g., “This is not a case about x.”)
So far, so good. But it’s in the details that this book excels. Take point 3, why should I care? Guberman identifies 3 fundamental judicial fears that an advocate can manipulate to grab the court’s attention:
- The fear of misconstruing a statute or doctrine;
- The fear of creating new duties, rules, or defenses; and
- The fear of reaching an unfair result or causing harm.
He then gives a series of 3-7 examples of superstar advocates using each technique. This is really, really good stuff. With the caveat that, the closer you look at John Roberts’ writing, the better it gets, and the worse you feel about yourself.
I actually traded emails with Ross about his book. He’s agreed to do a short email Q&A by email. If you’re interested, shoot me an email with a question you’d like to see posed to a writing guru. Otherwise, I’ll high jack the discussion and we’ll hear a lot about how to write a good statement of facts.
Finally, I realize that these positive reviews are starting endanger my street cred. I can’t remember the last time I wrote something negative about a legal writing book, but in recent weeks I’ve gushed embarrassingly over the Curmudgeon,* the Butterick, and now the Guberman. Also, 40% of everything on this blog is plagiarized from Scalia & Garner.
So in the spirit of malevolent snark that I understand to be a hallmark of the blogging medium, here’s my negative review: I recently bought a copy of The Lawyer’s Guide to Writing Well by Tom Goldstein (no, not that Tom Goldstein) and Jethro K. Lieberman (yes, that Jehtro K. Lieberman). That’s the book I was reading when I turned to Point Made. I found it dry and moderately disappointing (and, to tell the truth, I still haven’t finished it).
*By the way, the Curmudgeon killed it again with his post on standards of review. The guy’s a warlock.