Monday, June 12, 2017
Last week it seemed like the only thing on cable news was former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before Congress. While the content of Comey's written and oral testimony has received a lot of press, one surprise feature of the hearing was the praise Comey received for his writing. Here is the exchange Comey had with Senator James Risch from Idaho:
RISCH: Yesterday, I got, and everybody got, the seven pages of your direct testimony that’s now a part of the record, here. And the first — I read it, then I read it again, and all I could think was, number one, how much I hated the class of legal writing when I was in law school.
And you were the guy that probably got the A, after — after reading this. So I — I find it clear, I find it concise and, having been a prosecutor for a number of years and handling hundred — maybe thousands of cases and read police reports, investigative reports, this is as good as it gets.
And — and I really appreciate that — not only — not only the conciseness and the clearness of it, but also the fact that you have things that were written down contemporaneously when they happened, and you actually put them in quotes, so we know exactly what happened and we’re — and we’re not getting some rendition of it that — that’s in your mind. So...
COMEY: Thank you, Senator.
RISCH: ... so you’re — you’re to be complimented for that.
COMEY: I had great parents and great teachers who beat that into me.
While it is a shame that Senator Risch disliked legal writing in law school (and that he mentioned the fact at a hearing that was nationally televised), I appreciate the shout-out for the importance of clear and concise writing (and parents and teachers who encourage such writing).
Over at the Lady (Legal) Writer blog, Prof. Kirsten Davis has an excellent post on why she thinks Comey's testimony is "A" worthy. All of her comments are spot on. A few of the comments pertain directly to appellate writing, such as organizing information chronologically (almost always a great strategy in the statement of facts) and showing how his ideas connect together. She also notes the effective nature of the introductory paragraph that Comey uses and how he could have improved it. I appreciate Kirsten's insight, and I am considering using Comey's testimony in my Advanced Legal Writing course this fall when we discuss the statement of the case.