Monday Profile: Christopher Trudeau


Christopher Trudeau grew up in Bay City.  After graduating from Michigan State University, he stayed in Lansing to attend Cooley Law School, where he graduated summa cum laude.  He accepted an associate position at Plunkett & Cooney in Bloomfield Hills, where he practiced labor and employment litigation until the desire to teach and give back to his alma mater brought him to academia.

During his 11 years teaching at Cooley Law School, his skills and interests have evolved. When he started at Cooley, he was a litigator adept at persuasive writing and discovery, a perfect match for teaching Cooley’s legal writing courses. Now he also teaches Property, and, occasionally, Torts. 

Trudeau has also become a staunch advocate for plain language—using language that non-lawyers can understand. In fact, in 2011, he conducted the only U.S. study to empirically gather data and analyze the public’s preferences in legal communication. The study found, among many other things, that the public prefers clear, easy-to-understand communication versus traditional legal language at a rate of about 80 percent.  Publishing this study led him to a number of speaking engagements, which led him to use his plain-language skills in the health world, specifically, to meld health law with health-literacy principles.  He’s provided training for the FDA for the Institute of Medicine, and for numerous healthcare organizations.

Trudeau and his wife, Heather, a physician assistant in Grand Ledge, have three children: Ellie, 10, Olivia, 5, and Carter, 2.

By Jo Mathis
Legal News

Residence:  DeWitt.

What is your most treasured material possession? I value experiences more than material possessions. My most treasured experience has been finishing a 50-mile running race.

What advice do you have for someone considering law school?
  To understand that being a lawyer is not just a job, or a career, or a vocation—it is a lifestyle choice.  We are lawyers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in a way that adds to the respect of the legal profession. So I think it helps if budding law students realize that they aren’t just in for a 3-year endeavor. By going to law school, they are on the path to transforming themselves forever. For good or for bad, after they graduate, they will be different than they were before.

Favorite local hangouts: I like variety, but you can often find me golfing at Forest Akers or attending MSU football and basketball games.

Favorite websites:  Linked-In, and I’m starting to see the value of Twitter, though I don’t tweet a lot.

Favorite app:  Zite—a content aggregator that learns your preferences as you use it, and Overdrive. I like to listen to audiobooks as I drive.

Favorite music: 80s music and Jimmy Buffett.

What would surprise people about your job? That it’s a lot more work than people think. It is very autonomous, which requires you to be self-motivated to be the best teacher, scholar, and role model that you can be.  I tend to work 24/7 at times. When I’m writing an article or doing research, I’m always doing something work-related—even waking up in the middle of the night to write down an idea or a concept.

How do you define success?  Making a difference in others’ lives. Life is so much more than just trying to better your own position. It’s far more rewarding to better someone else’s.

What do you do to relax?  Play golf, run, and read.

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been?  The Grand Canyon. It’s amazing to think that natural, geological processes can create something so massive and awe-inspiring.

What would you say to your 16-year-old self? Don’t let fear prevent you from trying. You can accomplish much more than you think you can at this point in your life.
What word do you overuse? I don’t think I overuse any word, but I probably use conjunctions to begin a sentence more than 95 percent of all lawyers.  And I don’t mind it one bit.

What is something most people don’t know about you? Up until my 5-year-old daughter was born, I was an ultra-runner. I’ve run 12 marathons and 3 ultra-marathons. I still run a little, but I’d like to ratchet up my mileage at some point and do a 100-mile race. (I’ve done a 50-miler).

What is the best advice you ever received? Don’t think either/or. Think of ways to create “ands” – that’s what makes a difference in the world. 

What do you drive? I drive a Prius. There simply is  no other car out there that is relatively inexpensive, has a great re-sale value, and is designed so well that it can comfortably fit both a 6-foot-4 driver (like me) and a 5-foot-3 driver (like my wife).

What would you drive if money were no object? A Tesla. I am constantly enamored by Elon Musk and his endeavors.

What is your motto? “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”  – Steve Jobs.

What words and phrases should attorneys eliminate from their vocabularies?
Any Latin word that doesn't have a legal meaning, such as inter alia. They are just a way to subtly make yourself seem better than others, which further adds to lawyers’ negative stigma in society. And if there’s a “term of art” you must use to a lay reader, then define it right in the text. If you want empirical support, see my study.  It’s the only one to measure it.

Also, I would avoid all unnecessary words. Why use two or more words when you can use one? For example, always remove “of the fact that.” It means the same thing as
“because,” yet takes for more words. And, just say “after” instead of “subsequent to” and use “before” instead of “prior to.”

  I like to say in my class and seminars that “prior to” is the marijuana of legalese. Like marijuana, some are okay with it, and some are not. But, “prior to” is the gateway drug to legalese, so avoid that slippery slope or before you know it you’ll be using the heroin of all legalese: Further affiant sayeth naught, a fortiori, and things of that ilk. I realize there’s a lot of research disputing the gateway effect of marijuana, but please appreciate the analogy for its rhetorical impact.


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