Style guides and law review

Mark Liberman at Language Log writes of law review and style guides. This is useful. I know that law reviews are written by law students and that it’s a big thing on your c.v. if you are good enough to be invited to assist in law review in your second year of law school. I also have a copy of the Bluebook – A Uniform System of Citation, which is produced by those who produce law review in a few U.S. universities, and which probably differs like the length of the chancellor’s foot – and therefore I also have a copy of the ALWD Citation Manual, which may be more reliable but which does not yet deal with foreign sources, which are the most important for translators, but which promises its separate guide to foreign materials before the end of the year (or so they wrote to me).

But I never put the two together – law review = inexperienced students = possible risk of them being over-prescriptive, like Lynne Truss or Bastian Sick (albeit earning less money for it in the short term).

Style guides are just systems. There often has to be some sort of system, but the more you think about it and the more consistent you make it over a range of texts, the more of a millstone it seems to become.

And style guides don’t say why. So you look for reasons why.

The best thing I read about style recently was in Judith Butcher’s Cambridge Handbook – Copy-Editing. She writes, about capitalization:

bq. Many authors have strong feelings about capitalization, so follow their system if they have a sensible one. If their usage is inconsistent or unhelpful, suggest an alternative system, giving specific examples. If you do introduce a system yourself, it is easy to be led, by the thought of ‘consistency’, into having too many capitals or too few.

Mark quotes an email from John W. Brewer (how many more interesting responses we would have if there were a comments function):

… a key part of law review culture is a hyperlegalistic concern with details of style and usage, and an almost pathological fear of exercising discretionary judgment among plausible alternatives. For any style/usage issue, the notion is that there must be a rule, and you can look the rule up in an authoritative source, and once you’ve done that you should follow the rule strictly, both in your own writing and especially in seizing opportunities to make petty corrections to the writing of others.

and this in turn quotes yet another law review style guide, from Texas.

See also the earlier Language Log entry on Ann Coulter (Google says she is an attorney and conservative author) finding a non-existent distinction between ‘that’ and ‘which’ in defining relative clauses.

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