Posts Tagged ‘sloppiness’

More Consequences of Sloppiness

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

From “Lowering the Bar:”

JP Morgan won a case this week in which it had been sued by a trader who said his contract promised him 24 million rand per year (US $3.1 million). In yet another example of Why Typos Matter, the contract was missing a decimal point between the “2” and the “4.” JP Morgan said the trader knew this was a mistake, but signed the new contract anyway, hoping to try his luck with a lawsuit. On Monday, a judge agreed and ordered plaintiff to pay £80,000 in costs (no decimal point).

While this case turned out OK despite the typo, the fact of the matter is that the entire court suit could have been avoided if the mistake had not been made in the first place. Yes, this case is from the UK it could just as easily happen here! Therefore, it has earned a spot in our “Consequences of Sloppiness” category!

Beyond Sloppiness to Gibberish

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Sort of pressed for time these days. (Another manuscript deadline approaching.) But I do want to take a moment to add this to the “Consequences of Sloppiness” file, although as the title to  the post suggests, it goes beyond sloppiness by at least 300 words. From ABAJournal.com:

A federal appeals court is so aggravated by the quality of an Illinois lawyer’s legal writing that it has ordered him to show cause why he shouldn’t be barred from practicing before the court.

Lawyer Walter Maksym was “unable to file an intelligible complaint,” despite three tries given him by the trial court, according to the opinion (PDF) by the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Each iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing,” the appeals court said. In addition, “Maksym’s appellate briefing is woefully deficient, raising serious concerns about his competence to practice before this court,” the court added.

he district court was well within its discretion when it refused to accept Maksym’s second amended complaint, the appeals court said. “Though the complaint was far longer than it needed to be, prolixity was not its chief deficiency,” according to the appeals court. “Rather, its rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors contributed to an overall sense of unintelligibility. This was compounded by a vague, confusing, and conclusory articulation of the factual and legal basis for the claims and a general ‘kitchen sink’ approach to pleading the case.”

The appeals court included a 345-word sentence by Maksym to illustrate. At least 23 sentences contained 100 or more words. “Much of the writing is little more than gibberish,” the appeals court said. “Given three attempts to file a proper complaint, Maksym could not even bring himself to correct the errors cataloged by the district court following the first two rejections.”

Most of the posts regarding sloppiness here deal with exactly that.  It is highly unlikely that this kind of writing could have emanated from or gotten by a professional paralegal. So the more interesting question, it seems to me, is what a paralegal should do when the attorney is about to file documents like this? How would you handle it? I have some thoughts of my own, but they will have to wait until I have a bit more time.

Judge Shoots Down Extra “n” in Canon

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Just yesterday I encouraged by students (it was the first day of all my classes) to check out the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category here as a way of emphasizing the necessity to cross-check our work for grammar, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure and the like. I tend to focus initially on the misuse of apostrophes, which I find particularly irksome. Apparently the judge in this story from ABAJournal.com is particularly irked by the misspelling of “canon:”
Judge Scolds Levi Aron’s Lawyers for Inexperience, Facebook Posts and Misspelled Word
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A Brooklyn judge presiding over the murder prosecution of Levi Aron showed impatience with the defense lawyers on Tuesday.

Judge Neil Firetog grilled the lawyers “about their legal chops” and expressed concern that they don’t have the experience to try such a complex case, the New York Daily News reports. …

Firetog scolded the lawyers for complaining about press coverage of the case after giving media interviews and posting comments on Facebook. He even chastised the lawyers for misspelling “canon” in a reference to ethics, the Times says. “Two N’s means a cannon that shoots at something,” he said.

Given the seriousness of the charge in this case and the apparent concerns over whether the defense attorneys have the needed expertise to provide a defense, it does seem odd that the court would focus on the misspelling of one word. However, for my students and for practicing paralegals the lesson is that, even in the midst of very important matters, judges do notice even small errors and (apparently) can be adversely affected by them. Just another illustration of the importance of writing right.

“[A]nyone can make such an occasional mistake, but…”

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As you may already know the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a suit by a Texas cheerleader who did not make the varsity squad, stating ““Reduced to its essentials, this is nothing more than a dispute, fueled by a disgruntled cheerleader mom, over whether her daughter should have made the squad. It is a petty squabble, masquerading as a civil rights matter, that has no place in federal court or any other court.” While several sources have focused on the case it self, ABA Journal.com also notes that the court’s opinion comments harshly in a footnote on the grammar and spelling in the brief filed by the cheerleader’s law firm:

“Usually we do not comment on technical and grammatical errors, because anyone can make such an occasional mistake, but here the miscues are so egregious and obvious that an average fourth grader would have avoided most of them. For example, the word ‘principals’ should have been “principles.’ The word ‘vacatur’ is misspelled. The subject and verb are not in agreement in one of the sentences, which has a singular subject (‘incompetence’) and a plural verb (‘are’).”

In particular, Smith criticized this sentence in the plaintiff’s opening brief: “Because a magistrate is not an Article III judge, his incompetence in applying general principals [sic] of law are [sic] extraordinary.”

These are the type of errors I see daily in student papers and all too often in documents prepared for submission to a court. As noted previously, writing right is important and there are consequences to sloppiness. (See the category of that name on this blog.)

There are, of course, also issues here regarding the decision of the lawyer to take this case not only to trial, but to appeal. While those decisions are ultimately the attorney’s, good lawyers will use paralegals as sounding boards during the decision process. Paralegals should speak up when given the opportunity (and often even when they are not), to provide some perspective in cases such as this. After all, it is likely the paralegal who will be expected to handle the client!

Say what?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

This has little to do directly with paralegal, other than as an object lesson on sentence structure and clear communications. Here’s the introductory sentence from an ABAJournal.compost:

Ohio tort lawyer Stan Chesley is facing an ethics investigation by the Kentucky Bar Association for his conduct in litigation involving fen-phen and priest abuse.

I admit to being behind in such matters, but I was totally unaware of a connection between fen-phen and priest abuse. In fact I wasn’t aware priest were being abused. You can check out what they really meant here.

Typos, Handguns, and Tequila

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Whenever I do a presentation on document management I always include materials on both the benefits and dangers of computer software and electronic court filing. Quite appropriately for Cinco de Mayo ABAJournal.com posts on an incident that adds to my “warning” file and uses tequila in the process. It involves an attorney who used a wrong event code when using ECF resulting in his appeal notice appearing to be filed late. Fortunately, as reported by the post:

The 7th Circuit gave Moran a pass, saying there are bound to be mistakes as lawyers become accustomed to e-filing. But in a warning to other e-filers, the court referred to a “not so old adage” quoted in another opinion: “A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.”

I think this is the right decision, but this post still goes into the Consequences of Sloppiness category. One problem with sloppiness is that you have to sweat bullets while waiting for the problems to be solved even when the outcome is good. While this involved an attorney rather than a paralegal, it could happen to anyone operating without a double-check system in place – and more often than not that “anyone” is a paralegal.

The  real surprise here is that the court believes the tequila can lead to mistakes. I was totally unaware of this.

Writing Right

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals LinkedIn discussion forum includes a post by Kathy DiLorenzo,  Vice President, Business Development at MyLegal.com, entitled “Why it’s Important to Write Right in the Legal Profession” with a link to an article “Why it’s Important to Write Right in the Legal Profession – And 5 Common Writing Pitfalls to Avoid” by Brenda Bernstein.

Several posts here discuss how important it is for a professional paralegal to write correctly – using proper grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and the like. There is an category cataloguing the “Consequences of Sloppiness.” However, I do not give instruction on how to write correctly in this blog. Instead I have counted on Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips Check out both the website and the podcasts. Both have been quite helpful to those of my students who spend even a small amount of time with either of them.

This is my first experience with Barbara’s advice, but in this article she does address some of the most common problems I experience when reading student work and legal documents produced be some very good law offices:

Past or Present – use of the wrong verb tense
Example or Complete List – use of “i.e.” and “e.g.”
Law or Liberty – confusing statute with statue
Proper Punctuation: Periods and Commas Inside Quotation Marks
Proper Punctuation: Apostrophes

Barbara presents this addition to the Consequences of Sloppiness:

In a famous case in England, a traffic ticket was thrown out because it was issued for illegal “stoping” instead of “stopping”; the alleged perpetrator had conducted no mining activities (“stoping” is a mining term) and so was found not guilty. I bet that police officer never issued another “stoping” ticket.

Barbara also offers to help:

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 you…

I suggest we all take her up on her offer. I know I will.

Record negativity

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Professional paralegals should be pros at concise, clear writing. Today’s exercise is to fix this excerpt from a brief spotted by Tom Freeland at NMissCommentor:

The miniscule mention of abuse in the affidavits is insufficient to find the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision was unreasonable in finding there was no deficient performance and that there is no prejudice.  Nor is the decision of the district court wrong in finding that the state court decision was not unreasonable.

I’m assuming with some confidence (translated: hoping) that this was not drafted for an attorney by a graduate of my classes.

Bonus points if you can fix make this clear and concise while keeping the alliteration!

As far as I know there have been no formal consequences to the author. However, on possible consequence of poor writing is that samples may be posted on blogs, so this goes into the “Consequences of Sloppiness” category.

Professionalism and Dangling Modifers

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Today’s New York Times online edition contains an article entitled, “Loose Connections,” billed as Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style. In essences, it is a self-assessment by the Times. Here’s an example of what they found:

 Sometimes ambiguous antecedents and dangling modifiers are merely distracting (or mildly comical); sometimes they are potentially misleading. A couple of recent cases where we didn’t really say what we meant:

  [Online summary] Maine to Consider Warnings on Cellphones

 Under a state bill, cellphone buyers would be warned that they may cause brain cancer, despite conflicting evidence.

 All right, I know what we meant. But the pronoun problem was distracting (it was fixed later). The only plural noun for “they” to refer back to is “buyers”; “cellphone” is used as a modifier and could not properly be the antecedent.

The point for professionalism here is not necessarily the grammar correction. Having lived most of my life in Maine I read this article and noted the problem when it first ran – it was distracting, but hardly disruptive to the point of the article. Not nearly enough to qualify for this blog’s Consequences of Sloppiness category. Although the importance of using correct grammar and punctuation has been the discussed here, it is the act of self-assessment itself that I think is most important.

Self-assessment is as simple as proof-reading what we write and as complex as doing our own year-end evaluation before the office annual evaluation. (I advocate quarterly or more frequent meeting with your supervisor for evaluation purposes and self-assessment.) It also includes willingness to recognize legitimate criticism from the outside and using that criticism as a springboard for improvement. A incident recounted by Melissa H. at Paralegalese comes to mind. It is worth re-reading by clicking here together with a follow-up here.

Finally, one key to both professionalism and a successful career is taking charge of yourself. You cannot set career goals and make a plan for achieving them without indepth, sincere, and objective self-assessment. So, kudos and thanks to the New York Times and Melissa H. for their examples!

Cross-Border Incompetence

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Yesterday I suggested that we should continue to monitor the system for licensing paralegals adopted in Canada making specific reference to the definitions of character cited by the Law Society in a panel decision regarding Nicolino Alessandro. Alessandro’s case illustrates that lack of character and incompetence know no boundaries. The focus on the case is Alessandro’s alleged history of conduct showing lack of character, including “convictions for forgery, uttering forged documents and obstruction of justice.” However, it appears that a good case could be made that Alessandro, even if he had good character, simply isn’t competent enough to be a paralegal. Here are some of the problems with filings he made on his own behalf in the Law Society proceeding:

The reference letters:

1.         did not include one from a lawyer, or a person in authority in the court or tribunal systems, although they did include one from a disbarred lawyer who purported to be a lawyer in good standing at Exhibit 1, Tab 4;

 2.         none of the letters speak of convictions, but only charges;

 3.         the typeset was the same in two of the reference letters, at Tabs 10 and 14, and there were typographical errors in the names of the individuals in the “letterhead”; [Emphasis Added]

 4.         the handwriting on the applications, particularly at p. 2 and 3 of the Statement of Reference Form, is suspiciously similar in the reference statements at Exhibit 1, Tabs 2, 3 and 4, and the facsimile cover sheet from the applicant, at Exhibit 1, Tab 4, p.4;

 5.         the reference letter at Exhibit 1, Tab 9 from Evelina Di Rienzo purports to be from a Montessori teacher and does not disclose that Ms. Di Rienzo is the applicant’s wife.

On the basis of #3 alone, Alessandro would certainly find himself suffering Consequences of Sloppiness, so this post goes into that category. Apparently Alessandro needs a professional paralegal to assist him his application. However, if the panel’s statement is accurate, no professional paralegal would assist him because he is attempting to mislead the panel!

Not surprisingly, the panel denied Alessandro’s application for a license. A bit more surprising is that an appeal panel recently issued this decision:

By Decision and Order dated November 24, 2009, the Appeal Panel ordered as follows:

  1. The Appeal is allowed.
  2. The Order of the Hearing Panel dated April 30, 2009 is set aside.
  3. A new hearing before a different Hearing Panel is hereby ordered. The matter is to be expedited.

No reason is given for the decision, but based on my reading of the history of this proceeding I suspect the appeal was granted based on procedural grounds. It is quite likely the decision of the next panel will be the same, but I’ll be checking back to see the results.