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?
Today is Friday, and you know what that means at ATL: randomness and triviality! Not that this site doesn’t already wallow in randomness and triviality, of course. But on Fridays, we go the extra mile.
In a prior random Friday poll, we asked for your views on “pleaded” versus “pled” (and “pled” won; results here). Today we also have a question about writing and style. From a tipster:
Suggestion for slow news period. I have always been amazed (and annoyed) at the salutations and endings used in business emails from attorneys. The ubiquitous “Best regards” seems to be the party favorite. But I’ve seen many other options.
The tipster then provided a laundry list of email endings, which we’ve turned into a poll. Check it out, after the jump.
Today is Friday, when we entertain offbeat reader requests. Like this one:
I’ve billed a couple of hours this week arguing with different partners about whether “pled” or “pleaded” is the preferred past tense form of “plead.” Can I get a poll? I wonder what Biglaw associates and old-school partners have to say about it.
I’ve generally found that most younger attorneys use “pled” while the more senior attorneys prefer “pleaded.” Anyway, just random thoughts for a Friday morning.
Back in our brief-writing days, we used “pleaded,” which we felt better captured the “past-ness” of the event. But that’s just our opinion. What do you think?
[At the time of the Second Amendment's drafting,] lawmakers took a devil-may-care approach to punctuation. Often, the whole business of punctuation was left to the discretion of scriveners, who liked to show their chops by inserting as many varied marks as possible.
Another problem with trying to find meaning in the Second Amendment’s commas is that nobody is certain how many commas it is supposed to have. The version that ended up in the National Archives has three, but that may be a fluke. Legal historians note that some states ratified a two-comma version. At least one recent law journal article refers to a four-comma version.
The best way to make sense of the Second Amendment is to take away all the commas (which, I know, means that only outlaws will have commas). Without the distracting commas, one can focus on the grammar of the sentence.
… [W]hen the justices finish diagramming the Second Amendment, they should end up with something that expresses a causal link, like: “Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” In other words, the amendment is really about protecting militias, notwithstanding the originalist arguments to the contrary.
In fairness to the other side of the debate, that’s just one scholar’s opinion. Many others, including prominent liberal academics, disagree.
What do you think? Take our poll, after the jump.
* Gay marriages legally-cognizable-relationships-that-will-probably-get-called-civil-unions are coming to New Jersey.
* Superstar lawyer Ted Olson, who is not gay, got married — to a lovely lady named Lady. And ATL has the exclusive photos to prove it.
* Law firms are tying the knot too. The latest to head for the altar: Dewey Ballantine and Orrick.
* Things are going less smoothly for celebrities. Country music star Sara Evans is getting divorced. Jane Pauley is filing suit. Naomi Campbell is getting arrested. And Foxy Brown is getting sentenced.
* Paralegal pay ain’t half bad, as long as you work for Biglaw — and put in lots of overtime.
* Think grammar and punctuation are silly and useless? Listen to the cautionary tale of the costly comma.
* Justice Scalia: You like him, you really like him!
* As for your Least Favorite Supreme Court Justice, we’ll keep the polls open over the weekend. To vote, click here.
* And if you’d like to cast a ballot in a more frivolous poll, help Judge Janice Rogers Brown pick a hairstyle. To vote, click here.
The lawyers among you should know: Little things matter a lot.
Earlier this month, we told you about the missing “L” that cost a county $40,000. But $40K is chump change compared to the million dollars that turns upon an allegedly misplaced comma:
[A] dispute between Rogers Communications of Toronto, Canada’s largest cable television provider, and a telephone company in Atlantic Canada, Bell Aliant, is over the phone company’s attempt to cancel a contract governing Rogers’ use of telephone poles. But the argument turns on a single comma in the 14-page contract. The answer is worth 1 million Canadian dollars ($888,000 U.S.).
Citing the “rules of punctuation,” Canada’s telecommunications regulator recently ruled that the comma allowed Bell Aliant to end its five-year agreement with Rogers at any time with notice. Rogers argues that pole contracts run for five years and automatically renew for another five years, unless a telephone company cancels the agreement before the start of the final 12 months.
(Gavel bang: blah blah blog.)
Canadian lawyers are being hired in significant numbers by major American law firms. They claim it’s because of their superior training and lawyering skills. But Canucks make drafting mistakes too, eh?
Now it’s time for you to play judge. Here’s the contractual language at issue:
“This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
The regulator concluded that the second comma meant that the part of the sentence describing the one-year notice for cancellation applied to both the five-year term as well as its renewal. Therefore, the regulator found, the phone company could escape the contract after as little as one year.
It would be better to say “not everything that is stupid is unconstitutional.” “Everything that is stupid is not unconstitutional” can be read to mean that every stupid thing is constitutional, when plenty of stupid things are unconstitutional. I know there’s some argument over whether this should actually be considered a usage error. The argument that it’s not usually brings up Shakespeare’s “All that glisters is not gold.” Why didn’t he write “Not all that glisters is gold”?
Howard Bashman criticizes Professor Althouse for engaging in “untoward nitpicking on the internet.” But it seems to us that Althouse, after raising this possible ambiguity, ultimately comes down on the same side as Bashman:
[F]orget about this particular language nicety, I’d say. I’m rather glad to myself, since I was personally needled for years by someone who was inordinately vigilant on this usage point.
Here’s a brief update to our post from yesterday, concerning the divergence among Supreme Court justices over whether to include a second “s” at the end of the possessive form of a proper noun already ending in “s.” E.g., Kansas’ or Kansas’s.
Justice Thomas says no (“Kansas’”), while Justice Souter says yes (“Kansas’s”). We’re with Justice Souter on this one — as is Steve Dillard, although it pains him to admit it.
Justice Scalia appears to flip flop on the question. Jonathan Starble of the Legal Times offered a theory to explain Justice Scalia’s approach: “He believes the extra ‘s’ should be omitted if the existing ‘s’ is preceded by a hard consonant sound.”
We did some poking around, and Starble’s theory is essentially correct. Past clerks tried to convince Justice Scalia to use the “s” no matter how it sounds (unless a plural possessive is involved, in which case only the apostrophe is needed). This is Justice Souter’s view, Strunk and White’s view, and our view as well.
But Justice Scalia consulted Fowler’s, and he could find no rule to this effect. So he declined to follow the clerkly counsel. Instead, he “goes by the ear,” or by how it sounds: If it sounds ugly, then add only the apostrophe; if it sounds okay, then add the “s” as well.
Generally we’re all in favor of making decisions based on aesthetic considerations. But in this case, we respectfully dissent. Gimme an ‘S’: The High Court’s Grammatical Divide [Legal Times] Mark This Date Down [Southern Appeal] Earlier: Read This Only If You’re a Grammar Nerd
Okay, we’re nerds. We love this kind of stuff — even if some of you might find it soporific. From a delightful piece by Jonathan Starble in the Legal Times:
As one of its final acts last term, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Kansas v. Marsh, a case involving the constitutionality of a state death-penalty statute. The 5-4 decision exposed the deep divide that exists among the nation’s intellectual elite regarding one of society’s most troubling issues — namely, whether the possessive form of a singular noun ending with the letter “s” requires an additional “s” after the apostrophe.
In his majority opinion in Marsh, Justice Thomas dispensed with the “‘s” at the end: “Kansas’ capital sentencing statute.” In contrast, Justice Souter retained the additional “s”: “Kansas’s capital sentencing statute provides…”
Sorry, Justice Thomas; we’re with Justice Souter on this one. We follow the rule of Strunk and White: “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s.”
Justice Scalia “goes both ways.” Sometimes he uses the “‘s,” and other times he doesn’t. How to explain this apparent inconsistency? Starble theorizes:
Scalia appears to believe that most singular nouns ending in “s” still demand an additional “s” after the apostrophe. Thus, in his Marsh concurrence, Scalia repeatedly referred to the relevant law as Kansas’s statute. He similarly added an “s” to form the words Ramos’s and witness’s.
Yet in other parts of the opinion, Scalia added only an apostrophe to form the words Stevens’, Adams’ and Tibbs’. Based on this, it would seem that he believes the extra “s” should be omitted if the existing “s” is preceded by a hard consonant sound. So, whereas Thomas makes his “s” determination based strictly on spelling, Scalia appears to look beyond the spelling and examine pronunciation as well.
Oh Nino, we’re disappointed. We thought that you, of all the justices, would appreciate a clear and concise rule over needless complexity. Your middle-of-the-road, split-the-baby approach to the “‘s” controversy is so very “Sandra Day O’Connor.” And we know how you feel about her wishy-washy jurisprudence.
Here’s our favorite paragraph in the whole piece:
Is it fair to deprive a small minority of the population of the right to assert possession in the same manner as everyone else [by adding 's]? Whereas Souter would answer an unequivocal no, Thomas would likely point out that he has gone his whole life with only one “s.” Because it worked for him, no one else in a similar situation should receive any preferential treatment. People who happen to be born with names ending in “s” should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and learn to go without the additional letter. After all, it builds character.
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
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!