Posts Tagged ‘jargon’

When to boldly split an infinitive

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

It is difficult to exactly determine when to deftly split an infinitive and when not to do so. A post on ABAJournal.com reports on a lawyer and public relations consultant who advises,

“Blindly following grammar rules can be a mistake for legal writers..That means it is permissible to boldly split your infinitives, according to a Recorder article by AT&T lawyer John di Bene and public relations consultant Elizabeth Lampert.

“Lawyers will write the worst sentences in order to keep infinitives together, ruin the flow of their arguments and lose their readers in the process,” they write. “Remember, you are not writing for a grade, you’re writing to make a point. While it is important to know a rule, it is just as important to know when you should break it.”

They also advise against convoluted language, jargon and a patronizing tone.

This should not, however, be taken by any one that they can simply ignore the rules of grammar as a professional paralegal.

First, there is significant disagreement as to whether splitting infinitives is grammatically incorrect. So splitting an infinitive may not be a rule contravention at all. More important, though, is to take heed of the context: it is OK to bend the rules of grammar in order to avoid ruining the flow of an argument, or confusing or losing a reader. Most rules of grammar are intended to prevent these very same problem. Writing clearly, concisely, and persuasively is the goal. Most rules of grammar support that goal in most instances. They should be followed unless they clearly run counter to that goal.

Writing right remains an essential paralegal skill. Sloppy writing has its consequences some of which are illustrated in the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category. The most likely consequence is that your reader will not understand you. A brief is not likely to persuade a judge if the judge cannot understand what is being said. It certainly will not persuade a judge if the judge decides not to finish reading it.

I join with U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel of Minnesota in strong agreement with the advice to avoid jargon.

Read herein below about superfluous words and Too Much Capitalization

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

ABAJournal.com reports on a judge who has ordered lawyers stop using capitalization with abandon:

A federal bankruptcy judge is fed up with lawyers who use superfluous words and too much capitalization, and he has directed them to stop it.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel of Minnesota took a stand against legalese in new guidelines (PDF) for lawyers preparing proposed orders in his court, Legal Blog Watch reports, citing a story by Lawyerist.

Kressel says lawyers should eliminate superfluous words such as “hereby,” “herein” and “heretofore entered in this case.” The phrases “serve no purpose other than to make the document sound more legal, which is exactly the opposite of the goal that I am trying to accomplish,” he writes. “Compare the meaning of ‘Now, therefore, it may be and is hereby ordered that’ with ‘It is ordered.’ ”

Kressel also observes that “lawyers love to capitalize words. Pleadings, including proposed orders, are commonly full of words that are capitalized, not quite randomly, but certainly with great abandon. Please limit the use of capitalization to proper names. For example, do not capitalize court, motion, movant, debtor, trustee, order, affidavit, stipulation, mortgage, lease or any of the other numerous words that are commonly capitalized.”

This doesn’t fit in the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category as it is both (1) a preventative action rather than an imposition of consequences in a reaction to sloppy work and (2) addressing an area of document prepartion that does not involve sloppiness. However, the judge go on to admonish lawyers regarding proper use of the English language:

Kressel also says lawyers need to keep their plurals and possessives “straight and consistent,” need to watch verb tense, and need to use the possessive “its” and the contraction “it’s” correctly.

Don’t use “and/or,” he counsels. But do use articles such as “the,” “a,” and “an” as appropriate. Refer to “the debtor,” rather than “debtor,” for example.

The first is a simple matter of proofreading (assuming one knows the correct rules.) While I have often made such mistakes here on this blog, none of the posts are intended to be filed in court!

There are several points to be made here. First, a professional legal document is not a document filled with legal jargon and archaic language. Indeed, as Kressel suggests, the opposite is likely the case. Second, although this order is addressed to attorneys, it is likely paralegals will be charged with compliance. Third, it is necessary to know and practice proper use of the English language, a matter of reality my students, many paralegals and more than a few attorneys seem determined to deny.

The last point is well made in a recent guest post on The Paralegal Mentor blog by Lori Robinett, President of the Mid-Missouri Paralegal Association entitled, “Use of the English Language..” You should read the entire post, but here’s the sound bite:

Preciseness and accuracy are an absolute necessity. And the way you use language is a reflection on you and your employer. Take the time to learn the English language, pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Finally, the ABAJournal.comstory end with Kressel saying,“Write the way you would speak.” Unforunately, based on listening to many, many hours of listening to attorneys arguing motions and in other oral arguments, it seems he may regret the statement if attorneys take him literally!