LawProse Lesson #294: Shorthand names

What’s in a Name (or Label or Designation)? In the past few decades, an unfortunate habit has formed within a substantial segment of lawyerdom: giving parties alternative shorthand names. A brief-writer will mention Harold Reynolds and then add, parenthetically, “(Reynolds or Plaintiff)”; a contract-drafter, in a preamble, will write “SFX Corporation” and then add, parenthetically, …

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LawProse Lesson #293: Word-Swapping

The English-language has so many homophones (sound-alike words) and near-homophones that it’s hard for people to keep them straight. Let me illustrate with a fictitious paragraph: You know I have a photogenic memory. After Easter observations a couple of years ago, I was at the church bizarre when I overheard someone making laudable remarks about …

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LawProse Lesson #292: A secret for good personal notes.

Write “you”-centered notes, not “I”-centered notes. In any short personal letter, try to ensure that “you” and “your” predominate over “I,” “me,” and “mine.” (Think of the sarcasm of the Beatles’ song “I Me Mine”—about self-centeredness.) Put yourself in the position of the recipient and consider how much better the second of these makes you …

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LawProse Lesson #285: The Biggest Mistake of Legal Writers.

What’s the biggest mistake that legal writers make? It’s a simple blunder, really: too many begin writing before truly understanding the message they’re trying to communicate. They compose prematurely, hoping they’ll figure out the message along the way. Even if they do figure it out, their writing will inevitably be longer than necessary—both because it …

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LawProse Lesson #278: Beware formbooks.

It’s truly astonishing just how often badly drafted provisions become enshrined in contractual forms—even those published as “models.” Just in the past week, my LawProse colleagues and I have come upon formbooks containing the following provisions. Can you spot the substantive problems? (1) “Within seven (7) days after the signing of this Agreement, Buyer agrees …

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LawProse Lesson #277: “Noncompete” competes with “noncompetition”

When editing a brief recently, I noticed that it alternated between the phrases noncompetition agreement and noncompete agreement—mostly using the latter. At various points the brief-writer even used noncompete as a noun, especially as in the plural form (e.g., the employees all signed noncompetes). Having ghostwritten a CLE paper on noncompetition agreements for a partner …

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Hirsch Report

For those wishing to see the comprehensive report by Steven Hirsch on the Scalia–Posner brouhaha relating to Reading Law, click Hirsch Report.

LawProse Lesson #276: Unusual Latin endings.

Irregularities of any kind prove difficult for people—especially linguistic irregularities. They’re taxing on the long-term memory. For example, there are so many words ending in –cede (accede, intercede, precede, recede, secede) that the one exceptional spelling, supersede, is often misspelled to conform to the etymologically unrelated –cede words. It happens all the time. In print …

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