A law unto itself? The complexities of editing law texts
John Linnegar, Antwerp, Belgium
Editing texts about the law for students and members of the legal profession is a highly specialised and demanding species of our craft. It’s definitely not for the uninitiated or the fainthearted. Despite what some think, it does not require a law degree to edit such texts; but in view of the content and complexities involved, and the particularities of house style conventions, it demands both a methodical approach par excellence and a close understanding of the essential components that make up law textbooks and articles as well as the legal texts on which they draw or comment. This makes it a more technical process than mere copy-editing. But that does not make it either inaccessible or beyond the reach of editors generally, and there is a need for competent editors of documents, textbooks and articles that deal with the law.
Learning objectives: The audience will be familiarised with the essential components and conventions that have to be understood and mastered if they want to take on the editing of law texts and become proficient at it. They will learn about the particularities of legal argumentation, the citation of legal authorities at different levels, and the role house style plays in supporting clear, effective writing for the law.
Precisely what are we going to hear and see? I shall be using a number of examples of law texts to illustrate the typical format and content of textbooks and journal articles written about aspects of the law. These will show the style for citing authorities at different levels: national and international statutes, case law (usually the precedent-setting judgments of courts), academic authorities, conventions, etc.; the preferred system of citation in text and notes, the need for absolute consistency, and a focus more on technicalities than on text.
Why do we need to hear or see it? Why us? Many editors are either unaware of the particularities of law editing or perhaps daunted by the vague notion they have of what such editing entails. This presentation will both dispel some myths and present the true picture of this branch of editing, which – while technically demanding – can be enormously satisfying. It will certainly address MET’s expressed broad interest in helping language professionals improve the quality of their services and their ability to meet clients’ diverse needs.
Why at this METM? Editing for the law seems to have been a Cinderella topic at MET conferences, judging by the programmes and the comments from attendees at previous METMs. And yet there must be a demand among academics and practitioners for editing such texts, and possibly a shortage of practitioners to meet the demand. There’s no time like the present to induct the uninitiated; after all, the conference is taking place on the soil where Roman law – the fons et origo of most Western legal systems – developed.
How exactly is it going to be said or shown to us? By means of a PowerPoint presentation and, more explicitly, a handout. These materials will enable the audience to engage with concrete examples of the technical and stylistic detail that editing law texts usually entails, and raise questions about them.
Who should attend? Editors who are looking for alternative or additional disciplines to work in, and possibly even an additional income stream from new challenges. And, of course, those who are curious to know what this branch of editing involves – more especially those with an eye for detail and a penchant for imposing consistency on texts.
An editor with more than 30 years’ experience, John Linnegar cut his teeth in the law editing department of a major publishing house, where he was responsible for drawing up the House Style for Law Publications in consultation with a team of leading legal minds. Since the 1980s, he has not only continued to include the editing of law textbooks in his portfolio but has also facilitated training courses on editing law texts and acted as a consultant on the genre. He continues to prepare articles on aspects of the law for publication in a variety of law journals. A member of MET, he has presented and facilitated workshops at METM15 and METM16.