Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Here's a two-page article from Professor David Sorkin that would make a great handout for your legal writing classes. It's called Sex Ed for Legal Writers and it appeared in the Illinois Bar Journal. You can download a copy of the article here. It was published a couple of years ago, but the information in the article is still current and useful. Professor Sorkin (who is one of my legal writing colleagues here at The John Marshall Law School) wrote a series of these helpful articles when he was serving as the Editor of the Legal Communication Column for the Illinois Bar Journal. They've all just become recently available on SSRN.
Here are some of the observations that Professor Sorkin makes in the article:
- "Gender-biased language distracts readers (or listeners) from the message being communicated by diverting their attention away from the substance of the message, and toward the words that are being used to express it."
- "[S]ometimes, gender-specific language will result in the reader receiving an entirely different message from that intended by the writer."
- "There are perfectly good substitutes for many gender-specific terms."
- "Sexist language isn't a problem only because it's sexist--it also interferes with the purpose of your communication."
Professor Sorkin provides a useful list of 11 possible solutions for avoiding sexist and gender-biased language in legal writing. You probably cover some of these in your class already at some point. Make a copy of the article for your students or have them download it themselves at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1100298.