Monday, October 22, 2007

Two more nouns verbed; grammarians have few leads.

I am not making these up. Got them both first-hand.

The program can be used for document versioning.

We haven’t reached Mr. Smith for comment, but we are still efforting that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Word limits in the U.S. Supreme Court

John Mollenkamp points out that the United States Supreme Court has switched to word limits as of October 1, 2007. See the new rule 33.1 here. Merits briefs are limited to 15,000 words, which is probably about 50 or 60 double-spaced pages.

A memo from the court clerk explains:
Revised Rule 33.1 requires word, rather than page, limits. . . . Rule 33.1(h) provides that documents prepared under Rule 33.1 must be accompanied by a certificate signed by the attorney or preparer of the document stating that the brief complies with the word limitations. . . . Preparers may rely on the word count of the word-processing system used to prepare the document. Footnotes must be included in the word count. The certificate must state the number of words in a document.

Serial comma insight

Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker about Lynne Truss's book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, said that omitting the serial comma "is acceptable in the United States only in newspapers and commercial magazines." Read the entire article here.

I agree but had never heard that.


Against Latin

I often blather on about avoiding Latin in legal writing. I think it should all go, even though when I speak to lawyers I always concede terms of art like habeas corpus and res ipsa loquitur. Just now I've been reading The Party of the First Part by Adam Freedman, and he's made some excellent points.
The usual justification for clinging to Latin is that phrases like habeas corpus sound silly if translated into English. "I'm bringing a you-have-the-body motion" just doesn't have the force of "I'm bringing a habeas motion." But this argument assumes, again, that word-for-word translation is the only option . . . . In fact, good English synonyms for habeas corpus already exist: it has been called the write of liberty and the Great Writ, both of which are perfectly good English phrases. Or one could come up with a new name for habeas corpus; call it a "custody challenge motion" or an "anti-detention motion."
Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part 137.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Word limits v. Page limits

At a recent seminar, I suggested lawyers could improve their writing by using more tabulated lists. Lists can highlight information, put it in sequence, and make it easy to read.

The lawyers responded that using tabulated lists would take up more space and could therefore cause them to exceed page limits. True, and a legitimate concern, but unfortunate.

Courts should switch from page limits to words limits. By clinging to the outdated method of limiting pages instead of words, courts unnecessarily hamper legal writers.

What's more, the lawyers at my seminar told me that one court in which they submit papers still requires writers to use the Courier font because it allows greater uniformity in enforcing page limits.

Word of the Day:
hidebound = constricted by tradition

Friday, October 05, 2007

Dates and topic sentences

I was reading a facts statement in a brief, and I came to a series of paragraphs that each began with a date. I know that many judges say over-use of dates is weak, and my reaction was the same: "this is bad, unpersuasive, tedious." So I told the author not to put all these dates in there. But the author responded that these dates were crucial. They showed a timeline and brought the factual scenario within time limits that were relevant under the governing law. I thought about it overnight. Finally, I came to a realization.

Dates are not topic sentences.

So I told the author to keep the dates, but to stop using them as topic sentences. Instead, begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces what will be discussed in the paragraph. The date, if it is relevant, can appear somewhere in the paragraph. But the date is not the topic, so don't use the date as the topic sentence.