Legal writing… with style?

Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and Style in harmony

Today there is an interesting article on Slaw about the need for a greater degree of style in legal writing. Not in the stylistic sense of flair (although that would certainly be nice – there is a reason we still love to read Lord Denning), but rather in the formalistic sense, where the writing is broken down in ways that are easy to follow.

The reasons for this are not simply attributable to crochety guardians of linguistic formalism, but to altogether more prosaic and practical reasons – the Jodhan v. Canada (Attorney General) decision has mandated that the federal government ensures that all of its web sites are fully accessible by August 30 of this year.

While much of this does not have direct trickle-down impact on those in the legal profession, it will have an impact on those who are writing decisions and other documents that will find themselves on government websites. They will now need to be aware of the necessity of formatting and style in such a way as to produce documents that can be translated into accessible formats. To quote from the Slaw post:

Lawyers and – may I dare to say – “judges” as well as judicial staff and administrators are among those who must act to implement the looked after accessibility. In the medium term, this will change forever the way legal documents are prepared in our courts.

From now on, style is in order.

While it may not be enough to fully shield against the slings and arrows suffered by language in the recent past, at least style and legal writing can be in the same sentence without becoming accompanied by a snickering aside.

Furthermore, it is the simply the tip of the iceberg in the coming wave of accessibility initiatives as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Diabilities Act begins to be phased in over the coming years. These are important (and set to only increase in importance) concepts, so it is wise to begin to think about these issues now.