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LawProse Lesson #217: When do you capitalize “federal” and state”?

When do you capitalize federal and state? What about congressional and constitutional?      These words have been worked hard over the past week. Maybe they’ve earned capitals on that basis alone. But let’s see what the best typographic practice calls for—keeping … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #216: Embracing constructive criticism.

Embrace constructive criticism.      Undeveloped writers feel instinctively that if someone else criticizes their writing, it’s a personal affront. But more experienced writers know that if you insulate yourself from criticism, you’ll find it difficult to improve. Every document … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #215: How do you decide which Latin phrases to italicize?

How do you decide which Latin phrases to italicize and which ones to keep in roman type? The answer depends on how thoroughly naturalized the word, abbreviation, or phrase has become in English. If the term has become so commonplace … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #214: Lawyers’ biggest failing as writers.

Lawyers’ biggest failing as writers. What’s the most pervasive flaw among legal writers? It’s the tendency to begin writing before fully understanding the message to be conveyed. Lawyers often don’t think through what they want to say until they’re already … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #213: Caselaw: one word or two?

Caselaw: one word or two? Two-syllable noun phrases often begin as separates, then become hyphenated, and then become solidified. Take, for example, the word today. It started as two words {to day}. In the 19th century it was commonly hyphenated {to-day}. … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #212: Be the voice of reason.

Does a snarky tone win in motion practice? Among the most common remarks that judges make about advocacy is how extremely distasteful they find digs, jabs, put-downs, and negative characterization of opposing counsel and opposing clients. Yet litigators everywhere seem … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #211: Nouns of multitude.

Nouns of multitude.      Last week, we discussed the distinction between collective nouns and mass nouns and how you treat each in terms of numerical agreement. This week, we’ll address the related concept of nouns of multitude {a number … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #210: Collective vs. Mass Nouns

Collective vs. Mass Nouns.      In last week’s lesson on and/or, one of the examples used this sentence: The team of lawyers, paralegals, and mediators resolved the case quickly for their clients. One reader wrote and asked why the … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #209: Ban “and/or”

Ban and/or. And/or dates from the mid-19th century. Although lawyers and courts have vilified and/or for most of its life, this bit of legalese continues to infest legal writing and create ambiguity. The literal sense of and/or is “both or either,” so that A … Continue reading

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LawProse Lesson #208: “Graduate,” vb.

Graduate, vb.      Last week, at a performance of The Originalist in Washington, D.C., the stage actor Ed Gero—in a superb portrayal of Justice Antonin Scalia—delivered the small gaffe of having the Justice say “she graduated Harvard College.” After … Continue reading

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