Bryan A. Garner

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Bryan A. Garner (born November 17, 1958, in Lubbock, Texas) is an American lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher who has written several books about English usage and style, including Garner's Modern American Usage and Elements of Legal Style. He is the editor-in-chief of all current editions of Black's Law Dictionary. He has coauthored two books with Justice Antonin Scalia: Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (2008) and Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (2012).

Founder and president of LawProse, Inc., he serves as Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.[1]


Garner was born in Lubbock, Texas[2] and raised in San Marino, California, and Canyon, Texas. He attended Canyon High School and then the University of Texas at Austin, where he was enrolled in a liberal arts honors program called Plan II. Garner published excerpts from his senior thesis, notably "Shakespeare's Latinate Neologisms" and "Latin-Saxon Hybrids in Shakespeare and the Bible."[3][4][5][6][7]

Garner attended the University of Texas at Austin (1977–1981) and, upon receiving his B.A. degree, entered the University of Texas School of Law, where he served as associate editor of the Texas Law Review. After receiving his J.D. degree in 1984, he clerked for Judge Thomas M. Reavley of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit before joining the Dallas firm of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, where he worked as a litigation associate from 1985 to 1988. He then returned to the University of Texas School of Law as a visiting associate professor and was named director of the short-lived Texas/Oxford Center for Legal Lexicography, while teaching writing and editing seminars at the law school. In 1990, he left the University to found LawProse, Inc., a Dallas company that provides seminars on clear writing for lawyers and judges.[8]


As a student at the University of Texas School of Law in 1981, Garner began noticing odd usages in lawbooks—many of them dating back to Shakespeare—and they became the source material for his first book, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage. That book was published by Oxford University Press in 1987 and is now in its third edition (published in 2011 and retitled Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage). Since 1990, his main work has been teaching seminars such as Advanced Legal Writing and Editing, Advanced Legal Drafting, and The Winning Brief. Garner has set up online seminars on writing and advocacy.[9]

Since 2006, Garner has interspersed in his lectures numerous video clips from the many dozens of judges he has interviewed on the art of writing and on advocacy. In 2006–2007, he interviewed eight of the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court.[10] In addition, Garner has interviewed circuit judges on all the federal circuits. He has compiled an extensive archive of what American judges in the early 21st century say about effective writing and advocacy.

On July 8, 2001, the New York Times ran a front-page Sunday article about a minor controversy that had emerged as a result of Garner's teachings.[11] In various books and articles,[12][13][14][15][16] as well as in his lectures, Garner has tried to reform the way bibliographic references are "interlarded" (i.e., interwoven) in the midst of textual analysis. He argues for putting citations in footnotes while noting in-text information that is important but nonbibliographic. He opposes references such as 457 U.S. 423, 432, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 2521, 89 L.Ed.2d 744, 747 as interruptions in the middle of a line. To this day, however, interruptions in judges' opinions and in lawyers' briefs remain the norm. Some courts and advocates around the country have begun adopting Garner's recommended style of footnoted citations, and a surprising degree of internal strife has resulted within some organizations. For example, one appellate judge in Louisiana refused to join in a colleague's opinions written in the new format.[11] Garner says that one of the main reasons for the reform is to make legal writing more comprehensible and accessible to readers without a legal education. Yet he has attracted vehement opposition, most notably from Judge Richard A. Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit,[17] and from his co-author, Justice Antonin Scalia.[18]

Garner has contributed to the field of procedural rules. In 1992–1994, he revised all amendments to the various sets of Federal Rules—Civil, Appellate, Evidence, Bankruptcy, and Criminal—by the United States Judicial Conference. In the mid-1990s, he restyled the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which were adopted by the Judicial Conference, then by the United States Supreme Court, and enacted by Congress. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were restyled in 1993–1994 and adopted on December 1, 2007. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has printed and distributed Garner's booklet Guidelines for Drafting and Editing Court Rules (1996). Garner has revised the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, the California Rules of Appellate Procedure, the California Judicial Council Rules, the Local Rules of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, and the Rules on Judicial-Conduct and Disability Proceedings (for federal courts).[citation needed]

Since 2012, Garner has had a monthly column in the American Bar Association Journal. Since 1999, he has had a similar column in the ABA's Student Lawyer.

English grammar and usage[edit]

Books Garner wrote on English usage include Garner's Modern American Usage. When the University of Chicago Press published the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style in 2003, Garner contributed a chapter on grammar and usage. Garner is one of only two solo authors of a section in The Chicago Manual of Style.

The linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum, who has wondered why somebody as qualified as the University of Chicago linguist James D. McCawley was not invited to write the chapter,[19] had this criticism of the 15th edition:

His chapter is unfortunately full of repetitions of stupidities of the past tradition in English grammar – more of them than you could shake a stick at.... [O]n page 177 he appears to claim that progressive clauses are always active (making clauses like Our premises are being renovated impossible); on page 179 he states that English verbs have seven inflected forms, including a present subjunctive, a past subjunctive, and an imperative (utter nonsense);...[19]

In defense of Garner, the copyeditor John E. McIntyre wrote that:

But as much as people need description of how language works and how people are using it, they also want instruction in how they ought to use it for particular purposes, mainly the niceties of standard written English for publication. Bryan Garner meets a deeply felt need, and he does so responsibly.[20]

Books by Garner[edit]

  • Black's Law Dictionary
    • West Group, unabridged 10th edition, 2014
    • West Group, Deluxe unabridged 9th edition, 2009
    • West Group, abridged 8th edition, 2005
    • Thomson West, 3rd pocket edition, 2006, (Pocket)
  • Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (with Justice Antonin Scalia, West, 2008)
  • Reading Law: The Art of Interpreting Legal Texts (with Justice Antonin Scalia, West 2012)
  • Harvard Business Review, HBR Guide to Better Business Writing (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)
  • Garner on Language & Writing (foreword by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ABA, 2009)
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2009)
  • Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage (Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2011)
  • The Elements of Legal Style (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2002)
  • Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises (Chicago University Press, 2nd edition, 2013)
  • A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1995)
  • The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Courts (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2004)
  • The Winning Oral Argument: Enduring Principles with Supporting Comments from the Literature (West, 2nd edition, 2009)
  • The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style (West, 3rd edition revised, 2013)
  • The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • A Handbook of Basic Law Terms (West Group, 1999)
  • A Handbook of Business Law Terms (West Group, 1999)
  • A New Miscellany-at-Law: Yet Another Diversion for Lawyers and Others (by Robert Megarry: Garner edited, Hart Publishing, 2005)
  • The Rules of Golf in Plain English (with Jeffrey S. Kuhn, University of Chicago Press, 3rd edition, 2012)
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, Ch. 5 “Grammar and Usage", (University of Chicago Press, 15th edition, 2003, ISBN 0-226-10403-6; 16th edition, 2010, ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SMU Faculty
  2. ^ "Lubbock, Texas". Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  3. ^ John W. Velz, Looking Back at Some Turns in the Road, in Burnt Orange Britannia (Wm. Roger Louis ed., 2005), at 390, 400.
  4. ^ Carlton Stowers, Courtly Language, Dallas Observer, 19–25 July 2001, pp. 20–21.
  5. ^ Nancy Kruh, "Bryan Garner: The Lawyer and Lexicographer Is a Man of His Words", Dallas Morning News, 9 May 1999, High Profile §, pp. E1, 4–5.
  6. ^ Paul Kix, "The English Teacher", D Magazine, Nov. 2007, at 41–44.
  7. ^ Dave Moore, "On a Language Quest", Dallas Business Journal, Oct. 5–11, 2007, at 37, 42–43.
  8. ^ Legal Lexicographer
  9. ^ [1].
  10. ^ These interviews are accessible in full at
  11. ^ a b William Glaberson, Legal Citations1 on Trial in Innovation v. Tradition, The New York Times, 8 July 2001, pp. 1, 16.
  12. ^ Bryan A. Garner, Footnoted Citations Can Make Memos and Briefs Easier to Comprehend, Student Lawyer, Sept. 2003, pp. 11–12.
  13. ^ Bryan A. Garner, The Winning Brief (2d ed. 2004), at 139–158.
  14. ^ Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing in Plain English (2001), at 77–83.
  15. ^ Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2d ed. 1995), at 156.
  16. ^ Bryan A. Garner, The Elements of Legal Style (2d. ed. 2002), at 91–92.
  17. ^ Richard A. Posner, Against Footnotes, 38 Court Rev. 24 (Summer 2001)(answering Garner, Clearing the Cobwebs from Judicial Opinions, 38 Court Rev. 4 (Summer 2001)).
  18. ^ Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, West, 2008, pp. 132–135.
  19. ^ a b Geoffrey K. Pullum, "The Chicago Manual of Style — and grammar", Language Log, February 2, 2005.
  20. ^ John E. McIntyre, "[2], The Baltimore Sun, May 27, 2012.

External links[edit]