Grammar for Lawyers  by Michael Meehan and Graham Tulloch  Butterworths Guides Butterworths 2001; 111 pp; $25.00 softcover.


Plain English is the norm today for most professions, even though technical language may be acceptable amongst one's peers.

For most lawyers little attention is given to studying  the English language since  leaving school, and yet without the ability to communicate correctly we devalue our worth to clients, the courts, and to ourselves.

How then do we improve our skills without undertaking a formal course, though perhaps the availability of such courses could be implemented by professional bodies like the LIV.

Michael Meehan and Graham Tulloch have come up with an innovative approach - a traditional grammar especially for lawyers in 108 pages, which is fifteen pages of bedtime reading for a week. A great nightcap.

Grammar for Lawyers may be used as "a quick guide to correct grammatical usage in legal writing, or as a primer in the use of precise grammatical and syntactical analysis in legal interpretation" (page ix).  Legal problems often have their birth in incorrect language usage, eg use of the passive voice, confusion between transitive and intransitive verbs, misplaced adverbs, split infinitives, to name just a few of the difficulties.

Grammar is  best thought of "as a description, as a set of grammatical terms used to describe the way words relate to each other and the forms they take in doing so" (page 3) As such, traditional grammar differs from the new grammars, of which the most famous is Noam Chomsky's Transformational Grammar.   

In generations gone by, grammar was made known to us through learning Latin, even Greek and Hebrew, as they were taught as "grammar", and at tertiary level evolving into morphology and syntax.

All of us realise that legal  information has to be communicated with precision, economy, and clarity. All documents need to be as simple as possible, but Albert Einstein would insist "no simpler" . Writing is a matter of employing strategies, just as there have to be "reading strategies" in case law and other texts.

Gender-neutral drafting (page 93) is an excellent example of writing strategies, eg using exclusive pronouns for inclusive purposes. "S/he" is now quite common, but the suggested compound of he she it is to avoided as the end result could be horshit

Plain English is now the norm, being advocated as far back as Victorian LRC's 1987 report Plain English and the  Law.

This book is an excellent "teach yourself' grammar for lawyers.