September 01, 2013

On the Papers: The Style Proclaims the Lawyer: You Are What You Write

Your prose must proclaim not only what is going on in a case but also who you are.

George Gopen

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So often in professional life—life in any profession—we exist in the minds of others only through our writing. They know us only through their acquaintance with our letter of application or publication or trial brief. The 18th-century French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (in an age before gender-free pronouns) put it memorably:

Writing well consists of thinking, feeling, and expressing well, – of clarity of mind, soul, and taste. . . . The style is the man himself. [“Le style est l’homme même.”]

Man or woman, it matters not: One’s writing style proclaims to a reader who and what the writer is, personally, morally, and intellectually. It is of the utmost importance as a lawyer for your prose to proclaim accurately not only what is going on in the case but also who and what you are. Because it will convey all these whether you wish it to or not, it makes great sense for you to be in charge of that self-portrayal.


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