In the March 2013 issue of the ABA Journal is an article written by Bryan Garner titled Why Lawyers Can’t Write. Mr. Garner is president of LawProse Inc., editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, and an author (including a book with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). Mr. Garner’s premise for his article is that “lawyers on the whole don’t write well and have no clue that they don’t write well.”
He explains that this is the result of the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to two Cornell psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who through studies showed that:
unskillful or unknowledgeable people (1) often think they are quite skillful or knowledgeable, (2) can’t recognize genuine skill in others, (3) uniformly fail to recognize the extremity of their own inadequacy, and (4) can recognize and acknowledge their own previous unskillfulness only after highly effective training in the skill. A further finding of great interest is that skillful people tend to overestimate others’ skills and underestimate their own.
Mr. Garner goes on to elaborate that certain types of lawyers exhibit a higher incidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect. There are numerous comments that follow this article by lawyers, law students, and corporate clients voicing many different opinions about Mr. Garner’s article, including why so many lawyers write poorly and whether that matters. As expected, a client comment raised the issue of the cost and necessity of good legal writing.
For legal consumers the important issue is how much their lawyers are charging them to write well (revisions can be costly) and whether a well-written document is worth the cost. Perhaps it is more important for lawyers to know their audience and write effectively to that audience than to write well in the traditional sense. Legal writing should be effective, and lawyers who can write effectively – in an efficient manner – provide value to their clients.
You’ve got options. The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field. Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970.
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