Sunday, May 18, 2008

Effective writing: Sometimes even funny stories can backfire

Last week, while teaching a series of legal writing seminars for a state bar association, I conducted an experiment that reinforced my approach to teaching.

I was presenting three seven-hour seminars on three consecutive days in three different cities. In the room with me on each day were 50 to 100 attorneys and legal writers. Please, hold the jokes. I think lawyer jokes -- such as, how was copper wire invented? By two lawyers arguing over a penny -- are adolescent.

My experiment had to do with how to create a safe learning environment. To that end, I generally open my seminars on a light note by citing a few rules such as, "Don't use no double negatives," "Just between you and I, case is important, too" and "Last but not least, avoid clich├ęs like the plague." William Safire and others have compiled similar lists of mock rules.

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