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The Seven Deadly Sins of
Legal Writing

By Theodore L. Blumberg

Reviewed by Erin L. Means

Writing pervades nearly every aspect of lawyering. Whether writing letters, memoranda, contracts, briefs, estate documents or otherwise, lawyers write to further the interests of their clients in a variety of contexts. In his book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing, author Theodore L. Blumberg addresses common problems found in the mechanics of legal writing and provides an easy, bite-sized refresher for lawyers in any practice area to “clean up” their writing.

The author is a practicing attorney in New York and a frequent lecturer at legal writing seminars. He begins his book by de-
tailing some of the more egregious errors in legal writing, particularly the use of obscure, antiquated language and legalese. He urges lawyers to write in plain English and with precise clarity.

The book, which is under 60 pages, consists of seven short chapters, each addressing a different “deadly sin.” The deadly sins are writing practices that create cluttered, opaque and convoluted legal prose that consist of “passivity, abstraction, adverbiage, verbosity, redundancy, speaking footnotes and negativity.”

Each chapter explains the “deadly sin” it ad-dresses, provides examples of it in context, and provides straightforward advice for the reader to correct or improve the problem. The book also contains short exercises aimed at each sin that allow the reader to practice the author’s suggestions for correcting it.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing serves as an excellent reminder that lawyers write not to fill space on a page, but rather to achieve a purpose. Re-gardless of the lawyer’s purpose — letter regarding status of a case, a motion asking for a decision on a contested issue, a brief advocating for a certain result for a client or a contract regulating the behavior or two or more parties — the more clearly, concisely and comprehensibly a lawyer writes, the better the reader will receive the information contained in the writing. The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Writing functions as an excellent and quick resource to achieve that aim.

Originally published in OBJ 2012 Vol. 83 No. 29