The Legal Nexus

A blog of the Maricopa County Bar Association

What Great Writers Can Teach Lawyers and Judges: Wisdom from Plato to Mark Twain to Stephen King

   By Douglas E. Abrams 

Mark Twain

“Writing,” said lawyer Abraham Lincoln in 1859, is “the great invention of the world.”[1] From ancient times, the writer’s craft has captivated leading figures in literature, non-lawyers who are remembered most often for what they wrote, and not for what they said about how to write. Their commentary about the writing process, however, seems unsurprising because facility with the written language brought recognition in their day and later in history.

Like most other close analogies, analogies between literature and legal writing may be imperfect at their edges. “Literature is not the

goal of lawyers,” wrote Justice Felix Frankfurter nearly eighty years ago, “though they occasionally attain it.”[2]  “The law,” said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes even earlier, “is not the place for the artist or the poet.”[3]

Despite some imperfections across disciplines, advice from well-known fiction and non-fiction writers can serve lawyers and judges well because law, in its essence, is a literary profession heavily dependent on the written word. There are only two types

Stephen King

of writing – good writing and bad writing.  As poet (and Massachusetts Bar member) Archibald MacLeish recognized, good legal

writing is simply good writing about a legal subject.[4]  “[L]awyers would be better off,” said MacLeish, “if they stopped thinking of the language of the law as a different language and realized that the art of writing for legal purposes is in no way distinguishable from the art of writing for any other purpose.”[5]

As Justices Frankfurter and Holmes intimated, the tone and cadence of non-lawyer writers might vary from those of professionals who write in the law. Variance aside,
however, the core aim of any writer, lawyers and judges included, remains constant – to convey ideas through precise, concise, simple, and clear expression.[6]      This article presents instruction from master non-lawyer writers about these four characteristics


1.         “The difference between the almost right word and right word is . . . the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug” – Mark Twain.[7]

            When we read personal messages from acquaintances or newspaper columns by writers friendly to our point of Continue reading


April 25, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

Phoenix School of Law Moving to One North Central Building in Downtown Phoenix

Law School more than doubles space
for students, and moves closer to courts, law firms and downtown amenities

The Phoenix School of Law has announced that it will relocate to downtown Phoenix, in the One North Central building, located at the corner of North Central Avenue and East Washington Street.

The school is currently located on the southeast corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix.

In a lease that begins Aug. 1, the school will occupy 205,130 square feet of the building’s 13th to 20th floors, and a portion of the first floor.

“Phoenix School of Law is extremely excited for our move to downtown Phoenix,” said Scott Thompson, school president. “This strategic initiative provides the foundation for the next phase of our institution, and will build on the attainment of full accreditation granted last summer by the American Bar Association.”

The new campus will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, a fully operational mock courtroom, a legal clinic and a law library with an expansive physical collection of legal resources, and a variety of electronic databases. Continue reading

April 21, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

Maricopa County Lawyers Played Pivotal Roles in Ernesto Miranda Cases

Phoenix Attorney John Flynn, left, with Ernesto Miranda.

By Stan Watts

There was a time in the late 1960s when a paper airplane thrown during the lunch rush at Tom’s Tavern in downtown Phoenix would almost certainly have passed over the head of a lawyer who could legitimately claim to have played a part in the various cases of Ernesto Miranda. While much of the country was occupied with racial unrest, the British rock invasion and the Vietnam War, the criminal bar in Maricopa County was enmeshed in a debate about the fundamental 5th and 6th Amendment constitutional rights of accused criminals. Much of the debate swirled around this young man from Mesa and his generally undistinguished criminal career.

The Perp and Priors

Miranda’s notoriety as a celebrity criminal began with a short article in the Arizona Republic on March 14, 1963. Only a few days after his 23rd birthday and nine months after the birth of his daughter, Miranda was reported to have signed Continue reading

April 18, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

The Conspirator Posits: Did Justice or Revenge Result from an American Tragedy?

Frederick Aiken (played by James McAvoy) and Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) on the steps of the Capitol. (Photo from

By Joan Dalton

America has suffered an overwhelming attack and the country recoils in horror and grief. The perpetrators must be brought swiftly to justice. For the United States government, swift justice means military tribunals for the accused.

The date of the tragedy that ignites the U.S. government’s reaction is not September 11, 2001, but April 14, 1865, and the event is not the attack on the World Trade Center towers, but rather, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

In The Conspirator, Robert Redford presents the compelling story of Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright), a Confederate sympathizer and the owner of a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and others complicit in Lincoln’s assassination either visited or rented rooms. Continue reading

April 15, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

Ninth Circuit Upholds SB 1070 Injunction, State Preparing to Respond

Gov. Jan Brewer signing SB 1070 into law on April 23, 2010.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, April 11, upheld the decision by Judge Susan Bolton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona last summer to enjoin key parts of Arizona’s highly debated immigration bill SB 1070, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law last April.

A three-judge panel, comprising two conservative judges, made the decision to uphold Bolton’s injunction. Writing the opinion was Judge Richard Paez, with Judge John T. Noonan concurring and Judge Carlos T. Bea expressing partial concurrence and partial dissent.

Supporters of SB 1070 have promised to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit court’s ruling in hopes that the largely conservative high court will be more empathetic to their cause.

In his opinion, Judge Paez wrote that though Congress intended for states to be involved in enforcing immigration laws, under the supervision of the state’s Attorney General, it did not intend to grant states the authority to remove immigrants, which is the “purview of the federal government.”

Furthermore, the court found that SB 1070 interferes with Congress’ scheme in enforcing immigration laws by allowing Continue reading

April 14, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

College of Law Practice Management Seeks 2011 InnovAction Awards Nominations

The College of Law Practice Management (the College), an international organization that recognizes excellence in law practice management, is calling for entries for its 2011 InnovAction Awards. This is a world-wide search for lawyers, law firms, law departments and others in the legal services field that have invented or successfully applied new business practices to the delivery of legal services. The goal of the InnovAction Awards is to demonstrate to the legal community what can be created when dedicated professionals with big ideas and strong convictions are determined to make a difference.

2011 InnovAction Award nominations are due by June 1 and will be judged on the basis of four primary criteria – originality; disruption; value, and effectiveness. The presentation of the InnovAction awards will occur at the 2011 Futures Conference held in conjunction with the College’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL on October 28 – 29, 2011. More details on the award as well as past winners can be viewed here

April 7, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

AZ Supreme Court Chief Justice Berch speaks to Accomplishments, Proposed Merit Selection Changes

Despite dreary weather accented by a gray sky and an endless drizzle of rain, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch’s annual State of the Judiciary address was largely optimistic.

In her address, presented March 21 to a joint session of the Arizona Legislature, Berch touted the courts’ work over the past 12 months and the judiciary’s efforts to protect children, families and communities.

The chief justice opened her approximately 15-minute speech by outlining the Supreme Court’s recent accomplishments, including implementing new attorney discipline system rules and establishing the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge. She also highlighted the judiciary’s successes in launching statewide e-filing; working to reduce the crime rate and the number of probation revocations through implementing the Safe Communities Act, which the Legislature passed in 2008; and assisting in the deportation of illegal immigrants convicted of felony crimes through changes to protocols for determining the legal status of individuals in the probation program.

Berch also detailed efforts to improve the state’s probate court system by enhancing transparency in the system, Continue reading

April 6, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

Seeking Attorney Volunteers for Legal Assistance to Women in Shelters (LAWS)

The LAWS program was developed to provide pro se information to women at domestic violence shelters. The focus of the LAWS program is to provide education, resources and tips to victims of domestic violence to familiarize them with the legal process from starting a case to the final trial. This will be done via a series of one-hour seminars presented to women at domestic violence shelters across the Valley. The session topics include:

i.   Introduction to the Courts, Resources, How to File and/or Respond to a Case, How to Represent Yourself in the Courtroom; Courtroom Etiquette; What to Do if You Don’t Like the Result
ii.   Family Court/Custody/Child Support
iii.  Orders of Protection
iv.  Bankruptcy/Foreclosures
v.  Immigration/VAWA

We need volunteers to help present these topics to the shelters. If you would like to learn more about the LAWS program, please contact Alexandra Gormley at If you are interested in volunteering, please submit your name, contact information, and preferred topic of presentation to Alexandra Gormley at  Also, please indicate if you can speak Spanish. Of course, if you have any friends that you think would be interested in volunteering, please feel free to pass this email on to them.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment