Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
“The thing that irks me more than anything else is when someone says legal writing is not creative writing,” said Jane Malmo, a “writing specialist” at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. In such capacity, Malmo, who is both lawyer and litt�rateur, challenges young associates to think of themselves as serious, professional writers. “But [legal writing] is the most creative writing there is,” Malmo said. “It calls into relationship marriages and corporate deals — and so many other things that no one ever imagined. It also puts an end to these things. So, the writing had better be good!” She has her counterparts at a few other New York firms. But perhaps no one in the city brings such philosophical brio to the fore as Jane Malmo. Clearly, she is on a mission. “Painters think in colors, architects in space, musicians in sounds and silence,” said Malmo, 53. “The law is about people, objects, relationships and ideas. You can’t think of those things without words.” J. William Elwin, director of professional development and training at Shearman & Sterling, takes the more utilitarian view. Legal writing, he said, should be “clear, concise and persuasive” and — above all — constructed with “the harried reader” in mind. A year ago, Elwin left the faculty of Northwestern University School of Law to join Shearman & Sterling. He took over from Stephen Armstrong, an English professor who went on to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to head up that firm’s educational program. For the time being, said Professor Armstrong, there is no writing program, per se, at Paul Weiss. “But that might be included in the program later,” he said. At Shearman & Sterling, said Elwin, writing seminars are held “almost every other month” for associates. The seminars are conducted by teachers of legal writing — as well as the English professoriate. “We look for different approaches,” said Elwin. Beyond the seminars, he said, “We arrange for individual writing coaches.” One by one by one, Malmo has coached young Cadwalader lawyers in the fundamentals of writing for the job. She has further encouraged associates to look to literature — poetry and the great novels — as inspiration for legal writing. “You’ll never be a good legal writer by reading other people’s legal writing,” said David S. Miller, a partner in Cadwalader’s tax department and one of Malmo’s more ardent supporters. Even in discussing tax law issues, a dose of literary technique can be helpful. “Writing should have a sense of rhythm,” said Miller. “It reads better that way.” Or, as Malmo put it, “Unfortunately, a lot of legal writing is bad writing. The answer isn’t to make it more legal, it’s to make it more humane, more robust.” MORE LITERARY? “There’s nothing out there in day-to-day culture that encourages us to freshen our word pool,” Malmo said. “If young associates are just reading newspapers and watching television, they’re simply drawing on the same conventions. “Feed your head! Find the time to read the best literature — writing that matters, by the good writers who take risks!” Here, Malmo quotes Wordsworth: “Good prose is the right word in the right place, poetry is the perfect word in the perfect place.” “Read Emily Dickinson,” she said. “Read Langston Hughes, read Elizabeth Bishop!” The results of such exhortations? “If you think you’re good at writing and if you think writing comes easily to you, you’re probably not good at writing,” said Kevin Pigott, 30, a corporate law associate in his fourth year at Cadwalader. “You might have your winning argument lost because it’s stated poorly and you don’t realize it. Because you know all the [legal] jargon, or you’ve deadpanned it, or you’ve assumed too much of the reader — you could wind up writing your best argument poorly.” “When you think of legal writing, often you think of convoluted writing,” said Jean Lucido, 25, a first-year associate at Cadwalader. “Jane wants it more simple, more straightforward. She’s teaching us to be better writers in general.” Malmo has succeeded in making regular literary readers of Lucido (currently reading Elizabeth Berg’s “What we Keep”) and Alison Heller, 28, also a first-year associate at Cadwalader (and currently reading “Interpreter of Maladies,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories by the Indian writer Jhumpa Lahiri). “She’s never suggested specific outside reading,” said Heller. “But she does emphasize writing in plain English, as opposed to legalese.” Mark Tavokoli, 26, appreciates Malmo’s sensitivity to both authorial and lawyerly ego. “She’s a very pleasant person first of all,” said Tavokoli, a second-year associate in Cadwalader’s commercial litigation department. “She isn’t overbearing, she doesn’t try to force her will on you, she doesn’t dictate changes. “That’s what makes her effective,” he added. “I know it’s made my writing more effective — better word choice, better sentence structure, crisper.” Malmo has so inspired her students for the past seven summers. In January of this year, Cadwalader made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: part-time, and year-round. “It’s a fabulous job,” she said. The schedule allows her to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature at New York University, and to teach “Studies in Shakespeare” and “The Theater of Trial” as an adjunct professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. “The work I do for Cadwalader pays for my academic work.” When she was a student at New York University School of Law in 1971, Malmo worked for the legendary Law Commune, which defended a variety of left-wing political radicals in criminal proceedings. She went on to clerk for the private firm that grew out of the Commune: Lefcourt, Brennan, Cohn and Katz. Among other accomplishments at the firm, she wrote up the incorporation papers for the Film Forum, a nonprofit SoHo theater that shows independent films. “My first brush with corporate law,” Malmo said of the experience. She then became a staff attorney for the appellate division of the Legal Aid Society. Somewhere along the line, she was a personal assistant to the novelist E.L. Doctorow. “Ed answered every piece of his fan mail,” Malmo said of the acclaimed author. “He had this real sense that the care you take in expressing yourself to others is a part of your personal integrity. It’s important for lawyers to recognize that, too.” Personal integrity, Malmo said, is abiding by principles rather than rules. “A principle is something you can give a reason for; a rule has only to do with power.” ASSOCIATES’ DEVELOPMENT OF WRITING VOICE Too often in writing, she said, associates either succumb to rules, or fail to develop their own personal literary principle — their own voice. “When associates become dissatisfied, it’s because they feel they haven’t got a voice — which means a writing voice,” she said. “Words are the tools of a lawyer’s trade, after all. We’re lawyers. We’re ink on paper.” Critical to developing the powers of voice and confidence, Malmo advises, is listening to one’s own work. When a job of writing is complete, she said, “you should find a quiet place, get a glass of water and read your work aloud. Your own voice is your best editor.” Diane J. Stoeberl, 29, had a reputation for taking just that advice when she was a Cadwalader summer associate in 1994. “These days, too, I pretty much always read aloud,” said Stoeberl, now a seventh-year associate at Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, N.J. “Only now I have a door to close.” Above all, Malmo tells associates, “Go out of your way to take a writing course — not necessarily a legal writing course. Get out of the mode. It should be a detox program from law school review.” Even if the firm will not pay for such a course, Malmo said, “compared to paying a shrink because you’re unhappy — it’s nothing.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.