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The Redbook – A Manual on Legal Style

by Bryan Garner (Thomson West, 2nd Ed., 2006). 510 pages (spiral bound), $15.00.

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

The Redbook is a comprehensive reference manual that provides guidance with every facet of preparing legal documents. Reviewed by judges and attorneys, the Redbook authoritatively instructs litigants in the mechanics of writing (e.g., punctuation, spelling, citations, footnotes); grammar (all parts of speech, “legalese,” troublesome words); and preparing specific documents such as business letters, case briefs, affidavits, pleadings and motions. The detailed table of contents – 24 pages, not included in the 510 page count – is thoroughly indexed to help locate answers to your questions without time-consuming searches.

The Redbook is much more than a reference tool, though. Its bold-faced head notes draw your eye quickly to important subjects. Short tutorial paragraphs follow, educating you about each sub-category within a given topic. This tutorial design provides a superb self-instruction course on English language writing, independent of its focus on legal writing. This text is recommended as the single reference book (beyond a dictionary or thesaurus) necessary for any serious incarcerated writer.

Have you ever stopped to ponder whether you’re inaptly (or ineptly) using an incorrect word? Is it “insidious” or “invidious”? Did you mean “insoluble” or “insolvable”? The Redbook expends an impressive 100 pages reviewing troublesome words that we all stumble over – offering refreshing distinctions among choices with concise explanations of their differences. If you are not sure where to begin to find a word that’s troubling you, a separate index includes 3,600 such words with page number references.

For jailhouse lawyers, the 55-page chapter on appellate briefs will prove useful in creating an effective presentation style beyond the legal points of your argument. Separate chapters guide you through pleadings and motions; additional chapters cover business letters and contracts. Each of the eleven chapters in Part 3 of the manual, “Preparing Legal Documents,” contains printed examples that depict format and style as well as content.

The Redbook is an invaluable (i.e., “priceless” versus merely “valuable”) reference and educational tool for people who want to prepare legal documents and concurrently improve their English language writing skills.

The 3rd edition of the Redbook was published in August 2013 and is priced around $45.00. Both editions are available from online booksellers such as Amazon, Alibris and Barnes & Noble. Note that the spiral binding of this book (2nd and 3rd editions) is made of metal wire, which may not be allowed in some prisons and jails. If removed, the wire can be easily replaced with a shoelace.

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