Finis: Our icon for the My Last Word column in Arizona Attorney Magazine

Finis: Our icon for the My Last Word column

On this last day of August, I pause to praise a piece of writing in our July/August issue—and to praise the column it inhabits.

Longtime readers of Arizona Attorney Magazine will know that the name of our occasional back-page column is “The Last Word”—so named when we have one of our three primary columnists writing.

But we also invite any attorney—or non-attorney—to write a single column when the mood strikes them. On those months, we call the column “My Last Word.” And it has become one of my favorite places in the magazine.

I think I enjoy the surprise and discovery, as multiple people inevitably have inevitable viewpoints.

In that space, we have had people write on all sorts of things. And this month, attorney Gary Fry muses on—the act of musing. He wonders—as we should—whether we take enough time to do exactly that. Or are we too caught up in the minutiae of daily life to pause and reflect.

You can read his essay here. And if you want, you then can start at the other end of the issue; here’s the first page. Enjoy.

Gary also reminds me how much I enjoy the incredible photography of Jeff Wall. Here is a story about him and his process.

One piece of his I enjoy very much is called “Picture for Women,” which takes the dialogue about “the male gaze” in a decidedly modern direction. Here it is:

Picture for Women, by Jeff Wall (via Wikimedia Commons)

Picture for Women, by Jeff Wall (via Wikimedia Commons)

Here is a description of the work, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Picture for Women is a 142.5 × 204.5 cm cibachrome transparency mounted on a lightbox. Along with The Destroyed Room, Wall considers Picture for Women to be his first success in challenging photographic tradition. According to Tate Modern, this success allows Wall to reference “both popular culture (the illuminated signs of cinema and advertising hoardings) and the sense of scale he admires in classical painting. As three-dimensional objects, the lightboxes take on a sculptural presence, impacting on the viewer’s physical sense of orientation in relationship to the work.”

There are two figures in the scene, Wall himself, and a woman looking into the camera. In a profile of Wall in the The New Republic, art critic Jed Perl describes Picture for Women as Wall’s signature piece, “since it doubles as a portrait of the late-twentieth-century artist in his studio.” Art historian David Campany calls Picture for Women an important early work for Wall as it establishes central themes and motifs found in much of his later work.

A response to Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère, the Tate Modern wall text for Picture of Women, from the 2005–2006 exhibition Jeff Wall Photographs 1978–2004, outlines the influence of Manet’s painting:

“In Manet’s painting, a barmaid gazes out of frame, observed by a shadowy male figure. The whole scene appears to be reflected in the mirror behind the bar, creating a complex web of viewpoints. Wall borrows the internal structure of the painting, and motifs such as the light bulbs that give it spatial depth. The figures are similarly reflected in a mirror, and the woman has the absorbed gaze and posture of Manet’s barmaid, while the man is the artist himself. Though issues of the male gaze, particularly the power relationship between male artist and female model, and the viewer’s role as onlooker, are implicit in Manet’s painting, Wall updates the theme by positioning the camera at the centre of the work, so that it captures the act of making the image (the scene reflected in the mirror) and, at the same time, looks straight out at us.”

Interesting, right? And because it’s fun to compare, here is Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère:

Un bar aux Folies Bergère, by Edouard Manet (via Wikimedia Commons)

Un bar aux Folies Bergère, by Edouard Manet (via Wikimedia Commons)

If you or someone you know is interested in writing a 700-word column for the magazine, contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. It doesn’t have to be on law, exactly, though it should resonate with attorneys—their careers or their wider lives.

Advertisements
In a photo by Steve Mnich, we get a one-of-a-kind view from the Golden Gate Bridge.

In a photo by Steve Mnich, we get a one-of-a-kind view from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Today is a Change of Venue Friday and bucket list, rolled into one.

If you have never traversed the Golden Gate Bridge, you may look forward to doing that sometime in your life. And if you have traversed it, maybe you’ve gazed toward the very top and wondered about the view from hundreds of feet above the water.

When I lived in San Francisco, I did both multiple times. Unfortunately, reaching the pinnacle and getting a tour escaped my grasp. And that’s why an essay this week drew me in. Steve Mnich’s piece “Atop the Golden Gate Bridge” delivers exactly what it promises—plus photos.

As he opens his essay:

“The 746-foot-tall, mile-long Golden Gate Bridge is as abstract in scale and allure as it is essential in function. There’s no better way to fully appreciate this wonder of civil engineering than to experience the bridge from top to bottom, and from the inside out. I was lucky enough to ascend to the top of the ‘the most photographed bridge in the world’ to do exactly that.”

Keep reading—and viewing—here.

(One of his last images, seen below, even includes a second bucket-list item of mine. As the tugboat heads beneath the massive bridge, I’m reminded of my own thoughts on tugboat captain as chapter 2.)

Here’s wishing you a terrific—and adventure-filled—weekend.

Tugboat passes beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, by Steve Mnich.

Tugboat passes beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, by Steve Mnich.

Protect Your Writings by Maria Crimi SpethDo you or someone you know have a book idea kicking around—or perhaps even an unpublished manuscript in your desk drawer?

No surprise to you, I’m sure, but there are laws that affect your book, article, and other creative output. This coming Saturday, April 30, attorney Maria Crimi Speth offers a presentation on what you need to know.

She will be one of five speakers to offer advice to authors. The topics also include marketing, personal and family stories, editing tips, and self-publishing.

Speth is an intellectual property attorney at Jaburg Wilk and the author of Protect Your Writings: A Legal Guide for Authors. At the event, “Attendees will learn about the laws relating to writing books, articles, blogs and how to avoid making common, costly legal mistakes.”

Host: Scottsdale Society of Women Writers

When: Saturday, April 30, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Where: Scottsdale Civic Center Library

Details and registration are here.

Maria Crimi Speth attorney Jaburg Wilk

Maria Crimi Speth

And here is more detail about Maria:

“Speth practices in the areas of intellectual property, internet law, and commercial litigation, representing clients throughout the United States. She focuses her practice on assisting businesses in protecting their trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, information technology, and other intellectual property through preventative measures to avoid disputes and through litigation when disputes arise. She has been practicing law for 28 years and has handled cases in state and federal courts around the country. Maria is the author of Protect Your Writings: A Legal Guide for Authors and Apple v. Samsung, The Balance Between Patent Rights and the Free Market.  She has numerous published articles and dozens of published court cases.”

Capital letters do not make words more interesting

… nor do they make the writer more interesting.

Over The Years, It’s Become Painfully Clear To Me That Lawyers Like Their Capital Letters. It’s Almost Like They JUST CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES.

Maybe they put themselves in the shoes of the Founding Fathers (founding fathers?), whose Declaration of Independence is a hallmark of random capitalization. (And why is that? Read what this writer Says About That. And Slate covers the topic of capitalization and the Tea Party here.)

Nothing grabs the eye in a declaration of independence like random capitalization.

Nothing grabs the eye in a declaration of independence like random capitalization.

What got me thinking about this topic was Susie Salmon’s January column in Arizona Attorney Magazine. In it, she examines when you need to capitalize, and when you simply Should Not.

At the magazine, we routinely receive People-item press releases that show a trigger finger for capitalization. For example, if your law firm has a practice group called the Environmental Remediation and Asbestos Prevention Practice Group, or a department called the White-Collar Crime and Cybersecurity Department, by all means, have at it with the capitals; that’s the name of the group or department, after all.

But if “Robert ‘Bob’ Scharansky practices in all areas of Civil Litigation, with an emphasis on Environmental Remediation and Asbestos Prevention,” … No. Just no.

And Bob’s firm is not a Full-Service Firm committed to the Best Outcome for the Client.

Nor does Bob practice in Bankruptcy, or Aviation Law, or Employment Law, or even in the Federal Courts. He does not Focus his Practice in Immigration and Criminal Law. No No No. Those are not real things, or at least not things that demand a proper noun.

Embrace the little things in life. And begin with your typing choices. We all would Appreciate It.

capital letters My Magnificence Cannot Be Contained In Mere Lowercase Letters-page0001

I hope this is now Clear to Everyone.

Attorney-author Gary Fry (photo by Karen Shell)

Attorney-author Gary Fry (photo by Karen Shell)

What appears on the back page of your favorite magazines?

The reason I ask is that a publication’s final page is routinely ranked as one of the “most-read” pages of a magazine. So editor-types tend to put a lot of thought into that content.

Our own last page has included written columns, photos, and even quizzes. Over the past few years we have engaged readers with “The Last Word,” columns by regularly recurring authors.

After a while, though, it occurred to us that someone may have an idea or two that they want to share, even if they do not commit to a nearly monthly writing regimen. And so we devised “My Last Word,” for those more sporadic and yet still compelling notions.

The April issue of Arizona Attorney contains one of my favorites.

I have always enjoyed the writing of attorney Gary Fry, and you may agree. He prevailed in our Poetry category for our arts competitions in 2007 and 2013.

And here he is again writing, this time on the life of a retired, rural lawyer. His essay opens:

“I am a shepherd tending his flocks, four rescue mutts and two elfin Cornish Rex kittens in one, seven medicinals in the other—hawked on TV with taglines like, ‘Ask your doctor if Cymbalta is right for you.’ One flock is messy but brings me joy. The other protects me from messes I am prey to in my eighth decade.”

 “I am also a retired lawyer: Bar number 001880 (circa 1966). After a brief go as a courtroom lawyer—going nowhere fast—I turned to real estate law, paid to mine dense legal text and define ‘acts of god’ in elegant stacks of paper. But the emotional return on documenting a complex financial transaction could never match helping some poor soul out of a jam.”

Please read his whole piece here. (And the image of his back-page column is below.)

My Last Word by Gary Fry, Arizona Attorney Magazine, April 2015

My Last Word by Gary Fry, Arizona Attorney Magazine, April 2015

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.

Five years ago, this law blog started as a novel. Thanks and I'm sorry.

Five years ago, this law blog started as a novel. Thanks and I’m sorry. (Photo by mpclemens)

Five years is a long time to do anything—especially write a daily legal blog. But it was November 2009 when I launched this blog. How to celebrate?

Well, I won’t urge you to go back in blog time and to read old posts. But I will note this blog’s literary roots.

In case you don’t know, I started this blog as a method to publish a legal novel—written all in one month, November 2009, as part of a national novel-writing effort.

At the bottom of this post, I’ll share some links to a few chapters of the book. But before I do, here is how I previously described the adventure:

“Originally, in November 2009, this blog launched as a portal for my novel-in-progress titled ‘The Supremes’. It is a tale of a firm comprised mainly of retired state supreme court justices. They thought working together would be a great idea. Oy.”

“The novel effort was part of a national write-a-novel-in-a-month event. See here for more information on that crazy venture.”

nanowrimo novel writing postcard“Since then, I have blogged about law and law practice in one of the most, um, colorful states in the Union. Day in and day out, fascinating people and topics come to the fore, almost yearning to be transformed into blog posts. And so I oblige.”

“My novel was in memory of lawyer-author Peter Baird, who was a great friend and influence to many others, whether they were lawyers or writers. He died suddenly in late August 2009, and he will be missed.”

“Each novel chapter opens with a quotation from the respective portion of the United States Code. There are 50 ‘titles’ (chapters) in the Code, but we’ll see if there are 50 chapters. Time will tell.”

Here are the first few chapters. If you want to read more … I bet you can figure it out.

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5