Creative Legal Writing

It's common knowledge that most legal writing is banal. The briefs and motions need to advocate the facts and analyze those facts in light of precedent. In this setting, creative can come across as less serious, so many  legal scholars, attorneys, and judges are reluctant to let a lot of color creep in -- this is true for law review articles and legal opinions alike.

It is so unusual to see creative writing in the law that when creative articles or opinions are published, it makes the news (or it was a slow news day).  In the last year, I've seen a few news articles announcing the publication of law review articles that interweave pop culture.  These articles may appeal to a wider audience or at least make for a fun read.

One recent law review article used zombies to discuss estate tax issues.  Another used lyrics from Jay-Z's song "99 Problems" to analyze a Fourth Amendment search.

Generally, it is more widely acceptable in the legal field to be creative in scholarly writing than in other types of legal writing, but now and then a judge surprises us with an interesting opinion. Most recently, a federal judge in Texas has loaded his ruling on a case involving San Antonio strip clubs with at least 17 double entendres.

There are many instances of judges using poetry in opinions.  Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge Michael Eakin issued opinions in verse like in this excerpt from Porreco v. Porreco where the judge stated the facts in rhyme:

“A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium
When his spouse finds he’s given her a cubic zirconium
Instead of a diamond in her engagement band,
The one he said was worth twenty-one grand.
Our deceiver would claim that when his bride relied
on his claim of value, she was not justified
for she should have appraised it; and surely she could have,
but the question is whether a bride-to-be would have.”

It's fun to see these pop up. As a Scholarly Writing prof, it reminds me that scholarly articles can come in all shapes and sizes, and it's nice to be able to show the students examples from a lighter side of the law.


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