While perusing recent Twitter posts, I was directed to a blog post which asserts, as its central premise, that the use of Twitter will make better writers out of lawyers. (
Rex GradelessJosh Camson, Using Twitter to Become a Better Legal Writer (January 19, 2009) socialmedialawstudent.com.) Respectfully, I must disagree.
Before I do, a brief explanation of Twitter is in order. Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows you answer the question, "What are you doing?" by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called "tweets", to your friends, or "followers." (Tweeternet.com.) If you haven't used Twitter, the most common question has to be, "What can I possibly do with 140 characters?" Evidently quite a bit: 18 Super Useful Ways To Use Twitter.
Back to the blog post on Twitter as a tool for improving writing. Rex said:
“Twitter forces its users to express thoughts in 140 characters or less. Legal professionals who use Twitter are thus required to boil down their thoughts to a short and succinct message. The service does not allow for sloppy word choices and lazy sentence construction.
This analysis does a disservice to the skill that goes into quality legal writing. Effective legal writing must be clear. True. And often, succinct passages are clear passages, or at least more so than a verbose passage of equivalent meaning. But legal writing that is "short and succinct" as its goal misses the point. Legal writing must, before all else, communicate its intended message. If a terse desription of an issue omits important nuance, then the writing is inadequate, irrespective of its "clarity." Twitter's 140 character limit is an artificial restriction that is no substitute for writing with clarity in mind.
The other problem with this premise is that a short sentence only has meaning if it is part of a clear structure. Twitter does nothing to encourage effective paragraph structure or logical organization. I think it is more likely the case that the habits learned on Twitter, if not checked, would infuse legal writing with a sense of discontinuity. Syllogisms are not assembled on one shot sentences. In an effective legal brief, every part contributes to the whole.
Twitter is many things, but it is not the next source of great legal writers. Rather, great legal writers will likely make good use of Twitter.
My advice to aspiring writers would be to have someone proof your work and identify every sentence where they slowed down, reread or got stuck. Eliminate all of those, and your writing is probably clear enough to pull a reader through your points. Use a second pass to remove cliches and repetition for no clear purpose, and you probably have a brief that outshines 90% of what's produced today.
Just so I'm clear, I don't have an axe to grind with
RexJosh. But I don't want to see what I consider to be shaky advice dispensed that encourages young lawyers to avoid the hard work that is required to learn how to write effectively. "Oh, I don't need to attend that writing workshop; I use Twitter." Let's let Twitter be what it is, a dynamic social networking tool, and not what it isn't, a Legal Writing Instructor.
Rex Gradeless, who directed my attention to this article, is @Rex7 on Twitter. You can find my occasional Twitter posts under @hsleviant.