Posts Tagged ‘spelling’

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!

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!