Skip to main content

Floreat Florilegia!

The essence of development in legal style comes from reading, analysing, and learning from great pieces of legal writing by those masters who have come before. As with the High Court, ‘master’ is here used in a gender neutral fashion. Yet, these passages are scattered about an enormous array of judgments and books, which are very unlikely to all be at hand when needed. Thus, every legal writer should keep a florilegium of useful and striking quotations on the law—that is to say, a common-place book containing all the various extracts which are useful either as quotations to insert in an article or as a model of writing.

The uses of a florilegium are great in number. Your correspondent is often able to provide on the Legal Style ‘Twitter’ account an immediate apt quotation, because such a reflection on the topic is to hand in his florilegium. Time once wasted trying to remember where that thing about that topic is regained. Most importantly of all, great quotations are not lost to the fog of memory, but can be retained and studied each time the florilegium is opened.

To give an illustrative example, your correspondent recently had the pleasure to read a most learnèd speech given by Edelman J, of the High Court of Australia which dealt with the doctrine of the equity of the statute in statutory interpretation. Available at this link. In this address, at p 11 His Honour quoted this striking point from Roberts’ Treatise on the Statute of Frauds:

An administrator of the laws ought not to aim phainesthai philanthropoteros tou nomou for the true compassion of the law is to prevent cases of compassion from recurring. That indulgence is but treacherous lenity, which, by departing from known rules, leaves men in uncertainty as to means of their security, and destroys confidence by the misdirection of feeling. W Roberts, Treatise on the Statute of Frauds (Butterworth 1805), pp xxvi–xxvii

This is clearly a very useful and well-articulated point on the interrelationship between compassion and the law. It now sits safe in my florilegium, letting your correspondent capitalise on a collateral point in a lecture that would otherwise have slipped his mind. Each time I now see this quotation, I shall learn from it, through repetition coming to appreciate its beauty.

Of course, the lawyer’s florilegium is not merely a repository of great legal points, though these will no doubt make the great majority. It should contain scraps of poetry, literature, cinema and other sources of style. After all, law is in so many ways the study of words requires that we fill ourselves iwth the study of words in language. Happily, a quotation in my florilegium provides ample authority for this point— ‘Judges are philologists of the highest order’! (1857) 5 WR 522,523 per Pollock CB