By Julie Oseid and Randall Tietjen
Three conventional dictionaries
- Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition)
- The Oxford English Dictionary (5th edition)
- The American Heritage Dictionary (6th edition)
Various dictionaries can define the same word differently. Having multiple sources can help lawyers and judges who are urging that a particular meaning should be used.
One legal dictionary
- Black’s Law Dictionary (10th edition)
Lawyer and lexicographer Bryan Garner entirely rewrote this old standby to great improvement. A lawyer or judge can confidently cite it.
Two English usage books
- Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler
- Garner’s Modern English Usage
One legal usage book
- Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage
Especially good are the definition sections for “Opinions, Judicial” and “Law Reviewese.”
Three style guides
- The Chicago Manual of Style. Good advice on punctuation and style, plus handy information about copyright and fair use.
- The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style by Bryan Garner
- Plain English for Lawyers by Richard Wydick
Beyond the reference books
Some of the titles listed here (and some above) represent types of books (e.g., a guide to vocabulary and pronunciation) that are essential, but other fine books can be found that cover the same ground.
- Elements of Style by Strunk & White. This book has likely been on your bookshelf since college, but it is well worth revisiting with some regularity.
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This book will make you want to be a better writer.
- On Writing by Stephen King. Yes, that Stephen King.
- The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
- 30 Days to Better English by Norman Lewis. Good for improving your vocabulary.
- Typography for Lawyers by Matthew Butterick. It explains how effective communication depends on document design, including how words look on a page.
Julie Oseid is a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis who has taught judicial writing for The National Judicial College. Randall Tietjen is a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP in Minneapolis and chair of the firm’s professional-responsibility committee.