Center for Plain Language logoHere is an annual story I always enjoy: the award for plainness in writing emanating from the federal government.

Thanks to the Center for Plain Language, we now know which government departments wrote cleanly and crisply in the past year—and which ones fell far short.

As reporter Lisa Rein describes the results in the Washington Post, those that did well included Homeland Security (I know; I can’t believe it either), the Social Security Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But:

“The poor performers landing at the bottom of the 2014 Federal Plain Language Report Card were the Interior, State and Education departments. Interior and State didn’t submit writing samples, and their programs are anemic, the report said, while Education earned passing grades for writing and design but a “D” in compliance with the law.”

The Post story also provides the following example of muddy writing, this one coming from the U.S. Coast Guard:

The Coast Guard's at sea: The opposite of plain writing.

The Coast Guard’s at sea: The opposite of plain writing.

Oy. Maybe I should send the Coast Guard a copy of one of many great writing books I’ve re-read over the years, The Craft of Clarity by Robert Knight.

See the Center’s complete report card here.

The Craft of Clarity by Robert Knight book coverAlways on the hunt for simplification and clarity in our little corner of the world, I just conducted a small experiment on an online “readability calculator,” using our own written copy from Arizona Attorney Magazine.

This website will give you all kinds of data about the writing of you or others. Just paste in a sample of the writing and it will tell you the grade level the piece might best “reach.”

Using content from the upcoming March issue of the magazine, I pasted in exemplars from a few lawyer-written articles. I was pleased to see they came in at the range of 10th grade through 12th grade. (No, you really don’t want your language to reach exactly the grade level most of your readers have achieved. Readers are busy, and a readability score of 19, based on the average years of schooling of an attorney, is simply a recipe for disaster and obfuscation. A modest 10-12 is just fine.)

And then I pasted in my own editor’s column from the same issue. That’s when I saw it yielded a readability score of 7.0. That is 7th grade.

Sounds about right.

The good news: Time-stressed readers will not be overly taxed by giving my column a quick read.

The bad news: It looks like I’ll never get into the Coast Guard.

Have a wonderful—and rigorously disentangled—weekend.

cle snippets teaser logo. This teaser signifies a new and innovative way to combine magazine content with online learning.How enjoyable a snippet can be.

No need to be mysterious. I’m talking about CLE Snippets, those brief-ish video conversations I’ve been having with Arizona Attorney authors. (Read more about them here.)

Last month, I interviewed Ken Motolenich-Salas about his topic: the Washington Redskins trademark cancellations. (You can read his article here.) Fascinating and timely.

Just as fascinating and timely, though, was my dialogue with Anthony Tsontakis yesterday. Fascinating – OK. But timely? That seems surprising, considering Anthony’s topic: a battle over the 1912 judicial nomination of Judge Richard Sloan.

Indeed, our dialogue was timely. Anthony’s article and our conversation focused on how the nomination battle could lead a commentator to say, “No uglier fight was ever made against a man.” Our dialogue reveals just how little we’ve changed in a century. Not a bad lesson to learn in a bruising election season.

I’ll provide links to the videos with Ken and Anthony as soon as I have them.

Anthony Tsontakis (right) and I take a moment before videotaping our conversation about a 1912 nomination battle.

Anthony Tsontakis (right) and I take a moment before videotaping our conversation about a 1912 nomination battle.

Arizona civil verdicts 2013 gavel

Are you curious to hear the stories behind the top Arizona civil verdicts of the past year? At Arizona Attorney Magazine, we covered the topic in our June cover story written, as always, by attorney Kelly MacHenry. But as they say, there’s always more to the story.

This Wednesday, August 27, you can hear Kelly explain what lay behind those significant jury verdicts; she’ll also cover punitive awards, defense verdicts and trends. I have seen her presentation over the years, and it offers helpful insight into what the jurors (and the lawyers) were thinking.

The event will be at The University Club, 39 E. Monte Vista Road, Phoenix, AZ 85004. The Arizona Women Lawyers Association event is $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers.

More information and registration are here.

Royal Mail Coach, photo by DanieVDM, via Wikimedia Commons

What does a Royal Mail Coach have to do with the law? Our book reviewer tells all!
(Photo by DanieVDM, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

I was considering what takes a book review to a whole other level recently when an email arrived from Judge George Anagnost. And I was all, “Now I remember.”

Do Great Cases Make Bad Law? book by Leland Bllom Jr. The great book that was our reviewer's launching-pad.

The great book that was our reviewer’s launching-pad.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for book reviews (and of books). But too many reviewers think of their task as the same that confronted them in grade-school book reports: Tell what the book is about, in order, and then say if you’d recommend it (or not).

Drafted that way, the grade-school report is far superior, for at least it came with a hand-drawn cover.

Judge Anagnost’s approach is far more—and less—than that. He explains what the book is about, but not in enervating detail. More important, he sets the book in a context of others, and he sets the book’s subject in the context of its times, whether it is present day or the Revolutionary War.

Add to that his need to think discursively, wonderfully so. It is that narrative arc that yields magazine pages that are not a forced march from A to Z. No, his article is dotted with sidebars that illuminate and entertain (and give our Art Director the fun and sometimes difficult task of locating appropriate images that are high resolution and either in the public domain or reasonably priced!).

I post the pages below simply so you can see how his approach enlivens our magazine issues (though you can click to make them larger). But to read the Judge’s latest great review, go here.

And on Wednesday, September 17, Judge Anagnost again moderates one of his successful updates of the past Supreme Court Term. More detail is here. I plan to be there, and I hope you can make it, too.

 

Arizona civil verdicts 2013 gavel

As July rushes headlong to a close, I offer suggestions for two pieces from the June Arizona Attorney Magazine, before it recedes into memory.

The first is related to a decade-long favorite feature article: our annual roundup of the previous year’s largest civil verdicts, written by attorney Kelly MacHenry.

This year’s well-written and -researched story is here. But that’s just part of Kelly’s accomplishment.

For this, our anniversary year, Kelly suggested we also include a roster of the top verdicts of the past decade.

When an author offers a great idea along with the labor and smarts to get the job done, there’s really only one thing an editor should say: “Yes, thank you!”

So enjoy Kelly’s story about 2013 verdicts. But rip out and save her list of the top 100 verdicts of the past decade, which begins here.

Tomorrow, I share a story and news of an upcoming event that should be on your calendar.

Millennial Lawyers article June 2014 by Susan Daicoff

A few months ago, I was in conversation with a law school communications pro. She mentioned that a professor may be able to write an article on millennial lawyers. Would we be interested?

An article about younger lawyers, who are facing a nearly unprecedented bad economy? Who grew up and were schooled in ways distinctly different than their more-senior colleagues? Who will be inheriting and transforming the legal profession?

Hmmm …. Absolutely. Send it over and let’s talk.

She did, and we did. After some back and forth, we had what I suspected would be an extremely a valuable article for readers.

That article is in our June issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine. You can read it here.

Susan Daicoff

Susan Daicoff

The talented author is Professor Susan Daicoff; read more about her here.

Susan’s story is great reading for a few reasons, but what I especially appreciate are the specific takeaways she offers about a generation of professionals. But she is no cold-eyed anthropologist, examining these folks under a microscope. Instead, she displays her affection for them and her optimism for the profession under their evolving leadership.

Apparently, others see what we saw: We’re now up to two other magazines around the country that asked to reprint Susan’s article. It’s terrific to see good stuff get “out there.”

A realist, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop—a little one, anyway. What I wonder is this: Are there any millennial attorneys who resist being described and pigeonholed, who feel less identical to their own generation than to another that preceded it?

After all, even among generational waves of lawyers, we’re all individuals. So if your millennial experience varies from Susan’s description, I’d like to know.

Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

AZ Center for Law in Public Interest squibUnbelievably, May is about to pass. Before it does, I urge you to read a great article in this month’s issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Every spring, I weigh the wisdom of putting non-arts content into our May issue. After all, over the past decade-plus, readers have grown accustomed to enjoying the amazing work of the lawyer-winners of our Creative Arts Competition in that issue. Non-arts content, I fear, may get lost in the sauce.

But when I heard from Tim Hogan about an anniversary of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, I was hooked. There may be no public interest law firm that has touched on so many vital aspects of a state’s legal health as ACLPI has.

And when I read the draft by Timothy Hogan & Joy Herr-Cardillo, I was doubly impressed. Here’s how the article opens:

Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest logo“The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The Center started from humble beginnings in 1974 to become one of the most successful public interest law firms in the country. No one could have predicted that the Center would still be an important force for justice in Arizona four decades years after the organization began with nothing more than a desk, a phone and a typewriter—with only one young lawyer to type on it. This is a story about that law firm’s journey.”

Here is the complete story. Please let me know what you think. And let me know which of the Center’s many significant cases have made the biggest impression on you, as an attorney and an Arizonan.

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