Sometimes readers will email us with ideas for posts that range from the insane to the mundane. We’ve learned that what may seem mundane to the average citizen may be totally titillating for an attorney.
Members of this profession really, really like rules, especially rules about proper English grammar and usage. Be it confusion over a homophone, misuse of a hyphen, or incorrect placement of a semicolon, every grammar Nazi has a special place reserved in his heart for the idiot who screws these things up.
And that is why the topic of today’s reader poll is about how many spaces one should use between sentences….
* I’m standing in the middle of a desert, waiting for my ship to come in. But now no joker, no J.D. degree, can take your losing hand, and make it win; you should be leaving Las Vegas. [WSJ Law Blog]
* If Miami Law could somehow figure out a way to actually do this, they would usher in a new era where law schools might still be expensive, but not useless. At some point, the way we educate future lawyers has to change, doesn’t it? [Roy Black]
* The law and law enforcement will always be behind the curve when trying to police cutting-edge techniques employed to unwittingly photograph naked women. Still not sure if you want to click on the link? How about: “This is why Kash is afraid to pee.” [Not-So Private Parts / Forbes]
* I don’t understand and/or don’t care why so many lawyers have a problem with the “and/or” construction. [Legal Blog Watch]
* Listening to Lat and Bess Levin discuss the various things can happen to meth users was the highlight of my day at the office, but seriously kids, don’t do drugs. [Dealbreaker]
Ever see Fight Club? Yeah, me neither. The 1999 Brad Pitt movie was more of a cult film than a commercial success, although it did make back its costs. But the movie did have a line that became something of a meme, and was once recognized by Premiere magazine as the 27th greatest line in movie history (which seems dubious, but whatever):
The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
If only lawyers had the same rule.
You see, being a lawyer is like being a member of an elite club. OK, maybe not as elite as we like to think; there are more than a million members in the US. But elite enough. And the problem is, too many of us are dying to show off to others that we’re members of law club. And one of the ways we do it is by trying to sound like a lawyer when we speak, and especially when we write. This is a problem because sounding like a lawyer is the same as sounding like a tool.
I’ve come up with 20 lawyerisms that do nothing to advance the message you’re trying to send, but instead show that you’re a member of law club. And that you sound like a tool.
I think that it’s probably wrong, in almost all situations, to use a dictionary in the courtroom. Dictionary definitions are written with a lot of things in mind, but rigorously circumscribing the exact meanings and connotations of terms is not usually one of them.
– Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, quoted in an interesting New York Times piece by Adam Liptak about how Supreme Court justices are consulting and quoting dictionaries more frequently in their opinions.
Did you watch Lost? I was a big fan of the show, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2010. The series required quite a commitment from its viewers, since it had a large ensemble cast and was a true serial — you really couldn’t miss any episodes. After the third season, the producers made the unusual announcement that the series would definitely conclude at the end of the sixth season. Since so many elements of the show remained a mystery until the very end, it became a guessing game as to whether the writers would be able to tie everything together into a satisfying ending.
Toward the end of the final season, the show revealed a location that we’d never seen before that was crucial to explaining the Island’s secrets. (I’m not giving anything away here if you haven’t seen it.) But the location, a glowing cave, was rendered with cheesy special effects that looked like they’d been borrowed from the original 1960s “Star Trek” series. The bad effects were so jarring that they took the viewer out of the story, causing you to say, “What’s with the cheeseball special effects?”
What the heck does this have to do with improving your legal writing? Find out after the jump.…
If you happen to be on the frigid East Coast today, currently experiencing the coldest temperatures of the season, grab yourself a cup of cocoa and a copy of the Sunday New York Times. The NYT often has articles of interest to a legal audience, but this weekend’s edition has an especially high number of stories either by or about the boldface names of the legal profession. To wit:
1. Power of Attorney: Questions for John Yoo. Deborah Solomon interviews John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor perhaps most well-known for his authorship of the so-called “torture memos.” Considering her liberal politics and modus operandi as an interviewer — we’ve previously described her as “snarky, cranky, exceedingly direct” — we were expecting her to go to town on Yoo.
But Professor Yoo actually comes across very well in the short Q-and-A (and is looking newly svelte in the accompanying photo). He’s smart, funny, and charming — not a surprise to us, based on our personal interactions with him, but perhaps a surprise to some who know only the cartoon villain depicted by the mainstream media.
2. The 30-Minute Interview: Jonathan L. Mechanic. An interesting interview with real estate super-lawyer Jonathan Mechanic, chairman of the real estate department of Fried Frank (and previously profiled here). We learn that Mechanic, in addition to being a top real estate attorney, is also a real estate investor: he owns retail and commercial properties in Bergen County, NJ (where we grew up).
Three more stories, after the jump.
Today is Friday, when we present for your consideration quirky queries about style, grammar, and usage. E.g., how to pronounce “substantive”; is a marked-up document a “blackline,” or a “redline”; and do you prefer “pleaded” or “pled” in legal writing.
This latest poll may seem a little edgy (especially since today is Good Friday). But it actually presents a serious and legitimate question now facing Second Circuit judges (and their law clerks). Legal research reveals a split of authority; the courts have been inconsistent.
For background, read this post, including all the updates and comments. Now, the question:
Is it SUBstantive or subSTANtive? Our dictionary tells us to emphasize the first syllable.
A lovely Canadian professor at our law school emphasizes the second syllable, and although our affection for him is great, every time he says “subSTANtive” we take away ten points on our completely subjective professor-grading scale. How about THAT, professor? Students grade YOU TOO. (Just kidding. Kinda.)
On Fridays, we like to poll our readership on random subjects. Often these reader polls relate to matters of style and usage. Past polls have covered such important topics as favorite email sign-offs and whether to use “pleaded” or “pled” in legal writing.
Here’s today’s topic. It’s about what to call a version of a document in which changes from a prior version — or, more generally, divergences from a different version — are indicated on the face of the document (e.g., with strikethrough text showing deleted language, or double-underscored text showing added language).
From a curious tipster:
Is it “redline” or “blackline”? What is the difference, and why does my Asset Management group seem to use one, and M&A the other? Could this be the basis of an ATL usage survey?
FWIW, this Google Answers thread is the only online discussion I have found of this matter, and it is not especially responsive.
We’re curious as well. In the chambers in which we clerked, such documents were called “redlines.” But at the law firm for which we worked, most of our colleagues called them “blacklines.”
What’s your preference? Take the poll below, and opine in the comments.
Many ATL readers have a weakness for obscure debates about punctuation, grammar, usage, and style. See, e.g., here, here, and here. It makes sense; after all, lawyers are paid to worry about such things as proper comma placement.
So we weren’t surprised when several of you drew our attention to this interesting New York Times article, all about the semicolon. The piece, currently at the top of the Most Emailed Articles list, has a legal angle:
People have lost fortunes and even been put to death because of imprecise punctuation involving semicolons in legal papers. In 2004, a court in San Francisco rejected a conservative group’s challenge to a statute allowing gay marriage because the operative phrases were separated incorrectly by a semicolon instead of by the proper conjunction.
According to the Times, “whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.” Are you a member of that group?
If you think most legal technology misses the mark, LexisNexis Firm Manager® wants to change your mind. Read more about it here.
Built with input from hundreds of solo and small-firm attorneys across the country, it’s made for practitioners who’d rather build the firm of their dreams than deal with the hassles of running a business.
· Go Mobile, Stay Connected.
See all your firm’s information, wherever you are, on whatever device you’re using. Access and update client files, enter billing, search & share documents and more. It’s just like you’re in the office, only you’re not.
When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
The traditional job application and interview process can be impersonal, and applicants often struggle to present themselves as more than just the sum of their GPAs, alma maters, and previous work history. ATL has partnered with ViewYou to help job seekers overcome this challenge. ViewYou NOW Profiles offer a unique way for job seekers to make a personal, memorable connection with prospective employers: introduction videos. These videos allow job candidates to display their personalities, interpersonal skills, and professional interests, creating an eDossier to brand themselves to potential employers all over the world. Check it out today!