Book Review, 18 VTBJ, Summer 2018-#48

AuthorJoseph Kimble, Esq.
PositionVol. 44 2 Pg. 48


Vol. 44 No. 2 Pg. 48

Vermont Bar Journal

Summer, 2018

Seeing Through Legalese

Joseph Kimble, Esq.

Reviewed by E. Sebastian Arduengo, Esq.

Seeing Drafting Tips Through Footnotes

As lawyers, we’re always looking for ways to make our writing style clear and concise. It comes as no surprise then, that reams of literature have been written about legal writing by everyone from federal appeals court judges, to law professors, to even non-lawyers pleading with the bar for some measure of sanity in common legal documents. Adding to the mix is Joseph Kimble’s third foray into “the good fight for clear, plain legal writing”—Seeing Through Legalese.

Kimble is a professor emeritus of legal writing at Western Michigan University – Thomas Cooley Law School and served as a drafting consultant during the redraft of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence in the mid-2000s. Seeing Through Legalese is a collection of Kimble’s articles and shorter pieces written since 2006, along with some interviews and remarks. Unfortunately, the book’s format—Kimble’s articles are largely reprinted with minimal edits—doesn’t lend itself well to easily or quickly separating useful drafting tips from repetitive and often block-quoted material in most of the essays.

The meat of the book consists of Kimble’s observations from the redraft of the federal rules. Although many of his observations, like “use lists to the best advantage” are unique to legislative or regulatory drafting, there are a few gems that we could all do well to remember: First and foremost, don’t use legalese—terms and phrases rarely used outside of legal writing. These include rhetorical flourishes like “heretofore,” “pursuant to,” “wherein,” “therein,” and ”thereto,” as well as legal Latin (“inter alia”) that muddy the waters for lawyers and non-lawyers alike, and can almost always be replaced or removed for clarity (for example, substituting “pursuant to” with “under”) with no loss to precision.

Another good writing tip Kimble offers is to eliminate unnecessary prepositional phrases, especially ones that begin with “of.” This can be done by either making them possessive (“the law of the foreign country” to “the foreign country’s law”), converting them to adjectives (“trial by jury” to “jury trial”), or turning them into gerunds...

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