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January 20, 2021 Book Review

Legal Writing: A Judge’s Perspective on the Science and Rhetoric of the Written Word

By Honorable Robert E. Bacharach, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Reviewed by Christine Spinella Davis

The Honorable Robert Bacharach’s Legal Writing: A Judge’s Perspective on the Science and Rhetoric of the Written Word, recently published by the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section of the ABA, is not only a must-read for lawyers and legal writers in all practice areas but also an excellent resource to keep on your office (or home) desk for easy reference for years to come.

In this legal writing guide, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bacharach—a federal judge for over twenty years and a practitioner for many years before that—provides the reader with his insights and recommendations on how to draft the most effective and persuasive legal writings. Drawing on lessons from psycholinguists on the written word, Legal Writing lays out all the elements to use in text to make your best case—from document structure and sentence organization to grammar rules and diction, to formatting and typography, among others—and explains the rationale for his recommendations.

Part of what makes Judge Bacharach’s book so useful is that he not only provides substantive concepts and principles, but he also draws on concrete examples from Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges, practicing lawyers, and legal scholars. Yet Legal Writing is an efficient tutorial that one could sit down and read in full in an afternoon. In that short time, the reader can learn all the critical elements for a persuasive document—whether it is a legal brief or motion or simply a contract or a letter. Even if you remember some of these rules from back in grammar school or your undergraduate studies, this is a fantastic refresher. Judge Bacharach’s advice is not just for lawyers and legal writers; it is useful for anyone in the legal profession who drafts legal documents or correspondence.

I must admit that Judge Bacharach provides answers to numerous questions that I, as a frequent writer of briefs and motions, have struggled with throughout my career. Legal Writing is so useful that I can say with certainty that law students to new attorneys, and even seasoned lawyers, will benefit from Judge Bacharach’s advice. I cannot recall any other legal guide, at approximately 150 pages, that is so chock-full of practical tips to impact effectiveness in the profession.

The reader will be left with a playbook for effective legal writing, which he or she can reference whenever needed. In fact, the book has a detailed index, including keywords and phrases, to facilitate quick look-up for proper usage of words and phrases, grammar questions, and organizational tips.

Finally, for those who seek even more guidance on legal writing, Judge Bacharach provides extensive footnotes for further publications on these subjects, as well as specific examples of his recommendations from lawyers and judges. No matter in what area of law you practice or work, you should read this book. It will serve as an invaluable tool throughout your legal career.

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

Reviewed by Christine Spinella Davis


Christine Spinella Davis is an attorney in the Policyholder Insurance Coverage Group of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP’s Washington, DC, office. She is the current editor in chief of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Journal and executive editor of TortSource and also serves in various leadership roles in TIPS.