AuthorSalmon, Susie

I laughed out loud on a plane while reading a book about grammar.

No, I was not laughing at myself for being a giant nerd and passing time on a long flight by reading a persnickety, prescriptive list of rules. I was laughing because the book was genuinely--delightfully--funny.

If you have read any other work by Professor Diana J. Simon--whether it be her periodic columns on legal writing in Arizona Attorney Magazine (1) or her many scholarly articles (2)--it will come as no surprise to you that her book, The (Not Too Serious) Grammar, Punctuation, and Style Guide to Legal Writing, (3) is a brisk, engaging read, animated by her singular voice and chock full of memorable anecdotes and helpful examples. The title disclaims its seriousness, but do not be fooled: although the book deftly deploys humor to make the rules it teaches indelible, it is also deadly serious about its mission. Indeed, Simon sets forth her thesis in the first chapter: grammar, style, and punctuation principles matter, and law students and lawyers have the ethical obligation to master them. (4)

Like the excellent attorney she is, Simon exhaustively supports her thesis with well-chosen examples drawn from real cases, illustrating the consequences that befall the clients of lawyers who violate the rules. Not sure why you should care about passive voice? Simon cites one case where a lawyer's use of passive voice obscured the actor and thus hid the responsible party, giving the court no alternative but to dismiss the case. (5) In another example, passive voice in a contract created ambiguity as to which party had a particular right; because courts construe such ambiguities against the drafter, the drafter's client paid the price. (6) Clinging to AP Style Guide advice about the serial comma? (7) Perhaps the two cases Simon describes where a missing serial comma cost a party significant money (in one instance millions of dollars) will cure your dependence. (8)

And like the long-time legal-writing professor she is--she has taught law students lawyering skills since the 1990s--Simon uses humor and storytelling to make her lessons vivid and memorable. For example, Simon introduces a chapter on explanatory parentheticals with a charming story about how she adopted her dog and which lessons that dog appears to have retained from what he learned in puppy school. (9) Simon could simply have written that we attempt to assimilate a massive amount of information in law school, but certain...

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