Lesson from a lawbook

February 14, 2010

Some of you may know that, for the past three years,  I’ve been taking one class per term at a Oakland Community College with the goal of a post-bachelor’s certificate in the paralegal program.   I enjoy the classes and find that, especially in my core paralegal curriculum,  most of the students have already earned a bachelor’s degree.

This is the first term that I’m taking two classes.   One of my classes is called “Substantive Law.”  It’s half contracts and half torts.  I’m in the middle of the contracts section of the class.  Our workload involves reading lengthy chapters, each with their own two lengthy cases that we also read and then “brief” to distill their relevant legal facts.

It’s an interesting challenge for a writer who was trained as a journalist.  It requires wading through a lot of legalese.   The chapters talk about offer…acceptance…consideration.  And promisor…promisee.  And assignor…assignee.  And lessor…lessee.   They talk about “substantial beginning” and “genuine issue of material fact.”  There’s a lot of “court of law” instead of just “court.”  There’s a lot of “entered into a contract with…” instead of just “contracted with…”   I have to restrain the part of my brain that wants to wield a blue pencil and follow Mark Twain’s advice of crossing out every third word!

But once in a while, I find a gem.  I love quotations, and this one really spoke to me — it was just what I needed to read that day.  So thank you, whoever wrote the case brief for Hergert v. Bank of the West (275 B.R. 58).

“Errors…of the sort at issue here are not fatal to perfection.”



  1. Great post, Cindy! Way back when I was an English major and trying to become employed, someone suggested I go to law school (probably because I love to argue) which always made me smile. Like you, I’m a writer who was trained to “edit down” (one of my professors would scream: “People, clear OUT that excessive verbiage, please! There’s no time left for windbags!!”). A lot of legal language makes me squirm for the reasons you point out. Yet I know it would be very interesting. Can’t wait to find out where you’ll work with your new degree.

  2. Thanks, Cindy. It’s an adventure. And despite the ponderous prose, I’m learning a lot. I always love to find gems in the case briefs. I will say that, overall, the cases from Michigan that I’ve read have been among the most readable. If you enjoy judicial humor, there’s a case from Michigan, Fisher v Lowe, that was very amusing. Click on this link, http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/judhumor.html go about half-way down, and enjoy!

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