Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Why its Important to Write Right in the Legal Profession Ã¢â¬ And 5 Common Writing Pitfalls to Avoid
Why its Important to Write Right in the Legal Profession Ã¢â¬â And 5 Common Writing Pitfalls to Avoid The following article, by Brenda Bernstein, was first published on MyLegal.com. In a well-publicized case, a federal judge in Florida denied a lawyerÃ¢â¬â¢s motion (without prejudice, so he can re-file the motion) stating that it was Ã¢â¬Å"riddled with unprofessional grammatical and typographical errors that nearly render the entire motion incomprehensible.Ã¢â¬ Read the full article here: Judge Labels Lawyers Motion Nearly Incomprehensible, Marks Up Errors ABA Journal The judge highlighted the following problems, among others: Incorrect use of apostrophes. Typographical errors (using the word Ã¢â¬Å"thisÃ¢â¬ instead of Ã¢â¬Å"thusÃ¢â¬ and the word Ã¢â¬Å"fullÃ¢â¬ instead of Ã¢â¬Å"forÃ¢â¬ ). Incorrect placement of periods and commas outside of quotation marks. Wrong word use (using the phrase the plaintiff Ã¢â¬Å"had attended on filingÃ¢â¬ this action, instead of saying the plaintiff had Ã¢â¬Å"intendedÃ¢â¬ to file an action). One very long sentence. DonÃ¢â¬â¢t let this happen to you! If you write legal documents in any way, shape or form, it is absolutely essential to use correct spelling and grammar. In a famous case in England, a traffic ticket was thrown out because it was issued for illegal Ã¢â¬Å"stopingÃ¢â¬ instead of Ã¢â¬Å"stoppingÃ¢â¬ ; the alleged perpetrator had conducted no mining activities (Ã¢â¬Å"stopingÃ¢â¬ is a mining term) and so was found not guilty. I bet that police officer never issued another Ã¢â¬Å"stopingÃ¢â¬ ticket. Past or Present? One extremely common error I see amongst law students is using the word Ã¢â¬Å"leadÃ¢â¬ to mean the past tense of Ã¢â¬Å"lead.Ã¢â¬ This mistake could get you in trouble, since the past tense of Ã¢â¬Å"leadÃ¢â¬ is Ã¢â¬Å"ledÃ¢â¬ (with no a). You could be writing in the wrong tense! Example or Complete List? Another place you can easily convey the wrong meaning is with Ã¢â¬Å"i.e.Ã¢â¬ and Ã¢â¬Å"e.g.Ã¢â¬ When you use Ã¢â¬Å"i.e.Ã¢â¬ it means Ã¢â¬Å"that isÃ¢â¬ or Ã¢â¬Å"in other words.Ã¢â¬ The proper way to follow Ã¢â¬Å"i.e.Ã¢â¬ is with a definition or complete list. For example: The defendant was charged with illegal stoping, i.e., mining activity. Ã¢â¬Å"E.g.Ã¢â¬ means Ã¢â¬Å"for example.Ã¢â¬ The proper way to follow Ã¢â¬Å"e.g.Ã¢â¬ is with a partial list of possibilities. For example: The motion was denied for bad grammar, e.g., typographical errors and wrong word use. If Ã¢â¬Å"i.e.Ã¢â¬ were used here, we would need to provide a complete list of the examples of bad grammar. (For a more thorough explanation of i.e. and e.g., read my post Common Grammatical Errors: Should You Use i.e. or e.g.?) Law or Liberty? Do you know the difference between a statute and a statue? Statutes are laws. Statues are sculptures. We have statutes of limitations and a Statue of Liberty. DonÃ¢â¬â¢t get these confused. You might want to remember the extra Ã¢â¬Å"tÃ¢â¬ for Ã¢â¬Å"timeÃ¢â¬ when itÃ¢â¬â¢s a statute of limitations, or for Ã¢â¬Å"textÃ¢â¬ when itÃ¢â¬â¢s any written law. And you might think of following those statutes to a Ã¢â¬Å"TÃ¢â¬ (or 3)! Proper Punctuation: Periods and Commas Inside Quotation Marks To touch on one of the Florida judgeÃ¢â¬â¢s beefs, periods and commas, in the United States, always go inside quotation marks, even when they are not part of the quotation, e.g., The defendant was arrested for Ã¢â¬Å"illegal stoping.Ã¢â¬ Although there are rare exceptions to this rule, they will probably not appear in legal writing (they are more likely to show up in technical writing). For a detailed discussion of this issue, see my blog post The Quandary of Quotation Marks ( ). Proper Punctuation: Apostrophes Many people incorrectly use apostrophes to make plural words. DonÃ¢â¬â¢t do it! Did you notice that the plural of apostrophe is NOT Ã¢â¬Å"apostropheÃ¢â¬â¢sÃ¢â¬ ? It is Ã¢â¬Å"apostrophesÃ¢â¬ ! The plural words lawyers, judges, laws, statutes, DUIs and the 1990s do NOT take apostrophes. Use an apostrophe and then an Ã¢â¬Å"sÃ¢â¬ to make a singular possessive. The lawyerÃ¢â¬â¢s brief was riddled with errors. The judgeÃ¢â¬â¢s ruling was final. Use an Ã¢â¬Å"sÃ¢â¬ and then an apostrophe to make a plural possessive. The five lawyersÃ¢â¬â¢ arguments diverged widely. All the county judgesÃ¢â¬â¢ courtrooms contain the latest in audio-visual equipment. Put your apostrophes in the right place Ã¢â¬â and avoid annoying the judge. So Many Chances to Err! There are multiple ways to make writing errors in legal documents, and I have only covered a few. My most important advice is to proofread and proofread again! Get a second pair of eyes to check your work. If you have grammar questions you want answered, I will answer them to the best of my ability in the comments section of this blog. I look forward to hearing from youÃ¢â¬ ¦ Happy writing!