Legal Writing

In an event I did a few years ago at the University of Chicago with Judge Richard Posner (check out the podcast here), Judge Posner tossed out a delicious little blind item. He mentioned a federal judge in Chicago who would fire law clerks for what she viewed as a very grave offense: splitting infinitives in written work product.

But is splitting infinitives really such a crime?

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In Feeling the Kumbaya (Part I), we looked at how different the perspectives of business clients and in-house lawyers can be. Below are a few techniques that have helped me and my clients to feel the Kumbaya for each other (or at least have helped them to not think I’m only a total loser who has nothing better to do than change all of the commas in a list after a colon to semicolons).

Prioritize. I used to suspect that there was something about going in-house that made perfectly good law firm attorneys develop permanent amnesia when it came to good drafting. It was the strangest thing. Even my husband, a supposedly respectable corporate law firm attorney, after going in-house, suddenly started to let minor errors appear in his emails. My judgment of him was quick and deliberate. He would sometimes mistakenly use “there” instead of “their,” for God’s sakes! What lawyer does that?

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I’m begging for help here: If you have global responsibilities and are routinely dealing with documents created in languages that you don’t speak, how do you assess outside counsel’s skill at communicating?

As any regular reader of this column knows, I’m a realist at heart. I know in my bones that most lawyers write poorly. I learned this lesson early. When I popped open the first brief that crossed my desk as a clerk in the Ninth Circuit, I exclaimed to one of my co-clerks, “This is great!”

“What’s great?” she asked. “The brief?”

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The most recent installment of Grammer Pole of the Weak showcased the sophistication of Above the Law readers. The poll results show that most ATL readers appreciate the distinction between “that” and “which” (which they like to show off in their legal writing).

Today we tackle an issue that is less clear-cut, which will probably result in a more closely divided vote than last week’s. Here is the issue: What is the proper capitalization for the first word of an independent clause that follows a colon?

If that sounds confusing, please keep reading for clarification….

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It’s Friday, Friday, gotta talk about grammar on Friday. Welcome back to Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we discovered that 75% of our readers love to use substantive footnotes in their legal writing. Aww, Scalia would be so proud.

And speaking of Scalia, we’ve given him a little too much time in the limelight in this series. So, this week, we’re going to turn to an issue of grammar with some stylistic flair that was brought to our attention by another member of SCOTUS….

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In Grammer Pole of the Weak — yes, “Grammer” is intentionally misspelled, as are “Pole” and “Weak” — we consider questions of English grammar and usage. Last week, for example, we looked at a fun an interesting topic: the adjectival use of “fun” (which over 85 percent of you support, even if traditionalists frown upon it).

But we’d like the column’s purview to extend beyond grammar and usage. We’ll also tackle issues related to legal writing, in terms of both style and mechanics. Feel free to email us with suggested subjects for future Grammer Poles.

Today’s subject is one on which there’s a split of authority, between two co-authors of a leading legal writing book….

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Everybody’s working for the weekend. But for now, while you’re still stuck at work, you should take a look at our latest Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we found out that even federal judges are capable of creating fugly new words. Chief Judge Kozinski, stop trying to make “dissental” and “concurral” happen. They’re not going to happen!

This week, we’ve got a lighter topic to discuss. Do you have any fun weekend plans? If you do, you might want to reconsider your usage of the word “fun”….

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In our most recent Grammer Pole of the Weak, over two-thirds of you voted against the use of gender-neutral language, opting instead for the historic use of “he,” “him,” and “his” to cover both sexes. In the poll before that one, over 80 percent of you voted in favor of the serial comma. These results suggest that Above the Law readers are traditionalists in matters of grammar, usage, and writing style.

But back in August, 60 percent of you said that you are all right with “alright.” So perhaps ATL readers are open to the evolution of the English language and the creation of new words.

How do y’all feel about neologisms? Let’s look at two new words, coined by none other than the newly svelte Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit….

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Recently I talked to a fourth-year-associate friend of mine who’d been working at a new small firm for several months. When I asked him how it was going, he said “great” in a way that suggested anything but. So I pressed him for more. The work was fine, he insisted. The clients were fine. His associates were cool. Great, I said. So what was the problem?

Well, he finally let on, there was this partner.

OK, I said. What about this partner?

Well, he said, he’s making my life a living hell. In fact, my friend said, it was so bad, he was thinking of leaving the firm.

What made this partner so horrible?

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Happy Friday, and welcome to the latest edition of Above the Law’s Grammer Pole of the Weak, a column where we turn questions of English grammar and usage over to our readers for discussion and debate.

Last week, we discovered that 82% of our readers are willing to strangle, maim, and kill over the use of the serial comma. Take that, AP Stylebook heathens!

This week, we’re turning to a more contentious issue: the use of gender-neutral language in law practice and legal writing. Interestingly enough, experts disagree on the matter.

Bros, should you be kind to the ladies when you’re using indefinite pronouns?

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