Although legal writing expert Judge Mark Painter wrote an article entitled Legal Writing 201: 30 Suggestions to Improve Readability or How to Write For Judges, Not Like Judges, there’s one judge whose writing is always a pleasure to read: Hon Gerald Lebovits of the New York County Civil Court, Housing Part.
Judge Lebovits isn’t your run-of-the mill housing court judge: he’s a legal writing expert who’s published over 100 articles on the subject (as well as numerous articles on other topics). He’s also a popular legal writing professor and CLE presenter.
Now you can download his Advanced Judicial Opinion Writing: A Handbook for New York State Trial and Appellate Courts (as well as all of his other articles) from the Social Science Research Network.
The first half (roughly) of the Handbook focuses on judicial opinion writing, while the second half addresses legal writing in general. Nevertheless, I strongly urge you to read the entire manual for two reasons. First, much of the material in the first half is just as applicable to brief writing as to opinion writing (for example, “briefs” could easily be substituted for “judicial opinions” in the section entitled “What Readers of Judicial Opinions Hate: the Top 30 Vices”). Second, understanding how and why judges write opinions, as well as the different types of opinions, will add a whole new level of meaning to the opinions you read.
I’m sharing this information with you for two reasons. First, I’ve long believed that studying judicial writing manuals can make lawyers better writers. Second, I’m honored to call Judge Lebovits a colleague and friend: among other things, we co-authored (along with Alifya Curtin) a law review article entitled Ethical Judicial Opinion Writing, and we’ll be presenting Powerful Writing Techniques to Help You Persuade Judges and Win Clients at the ABA’s National Solo & Small Firm Conference in October.
Finally, I can’t pass up this opportunity to respectfully urge all members of New York’s Appellate Division, Third Department (or at least Justices Yesawich, Mikoll, Crew, Spain and Mugglin) to review the Handbook. I make this suggestion after reading that court’s opinion in Krouner v. Krouner, 267 A.D.2d 575, 699 N.Y.S.2d 220 (3d Dep’t 1999), which, although brief, is rife with errors (noted in red in the following quotation from the opinion):
By this proceeding, petitioner Leonard W. Krouner [footnote omitted] (hereinafter Krouner) seeks, inter alia, to have respondent deposit funds in a segregated account to repay a college student loan obtained by their son Kenneth Krouner (hereinafter Kenneth). Krouner and respondent (hereinafter collectively referred to as the parties) [As if we couldn't have figured that one out ourselves . . . .] were divorced in 1986. A stipulation defining their child support obligations was incorporated but not merged into the divorce decree and, despite modifications since its inception, the stipulation is silent with respect to the parties’ responsibilities to pay for Kenneth’s college education. Petitioners appeal Supreme Court’s dismissal of the petition.
In dismissing the petition, Supreme Court concluded that because Kenneth was over the age of 21 it could not compel respondent to contribute to his college education. Notwithstanding the absence of language in the stipulation as to the parties’ obligation to provide for Kenneth’s college education expenses and the fact that he has attained the age of 21 and payment for such expenses is not required by statute (see, Domestic Relations Law § 240[1-b][b] ), such payment may be enjoined if special circumstances exist (see, Domestic Relations Law § 240[1-b][c]; see also, Hapeman v. Hapeman, 229 A.D.2d 807, 810, 646 N.Y.S.2d 583; Smith v. Smith, 174 A.D.2d 818, 819, 571 N.Y.S.2d 127; Haimowitz v. Gerber, 153 A.D.2d 879, 880, 545 N.Y.S.2d 599). Inasmuch as each parent has a postgraduate degree and Kenneth has demonstrated academic ability (see, Hutter v. Hutter, 112 A.D.2d 543, 544, 491 N.Y.S.2d 480), whether special circumstances obtain turns on respondent’s ability to provide the necessary funds (see, id., at 544, 491 N.Y.S.2d 480). And, as to that, although petitioner has proffered various documents purportedly indicating that respondent has the wherewithal to help defray Kenneth’s education expenses-a premise vigorously disputed by respondent-[these should be em-dashes, not hyphens] the parties’ submissions on this issue are not sufficiently developed in the record to enable us to pass on this aspect of the petition. Accordingly, a hearing must be held at which testimony and evidence is [subject/verb disagreement] to be produced as to respondent’s financial ability.
(The commas after the introductory signals and id. are not required by the Tanbook, which dictates citation format in New York State Court documents.)