Longtime Readers Reflect on Judge Lebovits and “The Legal Writer”
“The Legal Writer” has been one of our most loved and well-read columns of the Journal. A few longtime devoted readers shared how Judge Lebovits’ sage advice affected their work and made them better writers. Thank you, Judge Lebovits.
According to the timeless U.S. poet Ezra Pound, “Good writers are those who keep language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.” I could think of no better quote to open this tribute to Judge Gerald Lebovits as he retires from writing his regular column “The Legal Writer” in the association’s flagship journal.
In fact, for many, many years, headings such as “Clarity,” “Wordiness,” “Professional Tone,” “Be Concise,” “Be Scrupulously Honest,” and “Write Simply” have appeared in his columns. Readers who have absorbed and internalized Judge Lebovits’ guidance on effective and efficient legal writing – whether from his own experience or in his more recent “Thoughts on Legal Writing from the Greatest of Them All” series – will be all the better for having done so, both in their personal and professional writing.
As the outgoing chair of NYSBA’s Committee on Communications and Publications (which oversees, among other things, the Journal), our work has been made easier by knowing that each issue would have Judge Lebovits’ informative and vital column as its concluding piece. I do not envy the task of the next chair, and that of the committee members and publications staff, in having to find a suitable replacement.
The Belgian-born U.S. literary critic Paul de Man once said, “The writer’s language is to some degree the product of his own action; he is both the historian and the agent of his own language.” Indeed, Judge Lebovits, through his column, has provided wonderful guidance to multitudes of attorneys concerning how to be effective and efficient legal writers while being the agents of their own language, professionalism and ideas. For that, we thank him, as we wish him all the best in the years to come.
Prof. Michael L. Fox
Mount Saint Mary College
Chair, Committee on Communications and Publications (2018-2021)
I was dismayed to learn that the Journal is publishing Justice Lebovits’ last column on language. I have always turned to his column first each month, and despite my own rarified skills as a writer and editor, I never failed to learn something – and to smile.
The best teachers I’ve had, whether in law or other spheres of knowledge, have combined instruction with a dash of levity – and Justice Lebovits cooked up his monthly column with the same mixture of ingredients.
Whether drawing examples of powerful writing from the best jurists or the best science-fiction writers, Justice Lebovits never failed to teach, enlighten and entertain. I will miss his column. I hope its finale represents a merely temporary respite from the hard work of showing us lawyers how to write well.
Not bad for a French Canadian, Your Honor, not bad at all.
Roger A. Levy
Levy & Nau
Writers learn best from other writers. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from a few great ones, and Judge Gerald Lebovits has been one of my favorites. In his regular legal writing column, Judge Lebovits has imparted writing wisdom from some of New York’s best legal writers, including Chief Judges Benjamin Cardozo and, most recently, Judith Kaye.
Throughout it all, Judge Lebovits’ own writing advice shone through: remember your audience, write clear, short sentences, and revise, revise, revise. I try to remember his advice each time I sit down to write and have become a better writer for it.
Whiteman Osterman & Hanna
As lawyers we derive our power from words. And we often make our greatest difference using the written word. Thus, the most valuable skill a lawyer can acquire is mastery of the language and the art of writing. To that end, Judge Gerald Lebovits has been an inspiration and mentor to many.
Anyone can write a stream of consciousness piece that reads smoothly but offends those who value precision. Alternatively, one may write precise prose that is dense as molasses and even harder to digest. Clear, succinct prose, however, brings joy to the reader and clarity to the subject. It requires the writer to crystallize her thoughts and, therefore, does a better job of persuading the reader. Achieving it requires skill, knowledge and a good deal of effort.
Judge Lebovits in his column shared with us his love of clear writing, his knowledge of the rules controlling clever lawyering, and the recipe for combining the two into powerful advocacy. We all will continue to benefit from his work and guidance.
New York, NY