Friday, December 21, 2012

105-page Opinion Too Long for 11th Circuit Judge

In a case recently decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge J.L. Edmonson agreed with Judge Ed Carnes in upholding the defendant’s murder conviction, but refused to join in Judge Carnes’ opinion because of its 105-page length. Holsey v. Warden, 694 F.3d 1230 (11th Cir. 2012). 
Judge Edmonson noted that “longish opinions always present a strong possibility of error lurking somewhere in the text,” and make it difficult for readers to distinguish the holding from dicta. Id. at * 1274.  In his concurrence, Judge Edmonson quoted Mark Twain:

 If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today.  If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.

Id. at 1274 n 1.*

*This case is interesting for several other reasons.  The defendant was charged with and convicted of the murder of a police officer.  He argued he was ineffectively represented after his trial lawyer’s quart-a-day drinking habit came to light.  The lawyer later was prosecuted and disbarred for stealing client funds.      

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Company is an "It"

In speech, we often refer to a company as "they."  This makes sense, at least to some degree, because a company is run by people, and any company act is the result of decisions made by those people.  However, for legal writing purposes, a company is an "it" and acts individually as an "it," not collectively as "they."  Thus, for example, you should not say, "Citigroup laid off some of their employees this week."  Citigroup is a corporation and, therefore, laid off some of its* employees.  The sentences below offer more correct examples:

The judge found INS Insurance Company breached its duty to act in good faith toward its insured.

The company argued the defendant was an independent contractor because it paid the defendant by the job rather than by the hour.

A corporation many not represent itself in litigation; it must hire counsel.  

*More to come in the future on the it's/its distinction

Monday, November 26, 2012


“Etc.” is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “et cetera” which literally means “and other things.”  It is appropriately used when discussing various, similar things but not when discussing various, unrelated topics or things. 
I do not believe the abbreviation “etc.” should be used in formal writing. I’m indifferent to the use of the full phrase “et cetera” in formal writing—I don’t personally use it, but I also don’t believe it is incorrect to use it in appropriate situations.  If you do choose to use “etc.” or “et cetera,” follow these guidelines:
-The abbreviation “etc.” should always have a period.
-Do not precede “etc.” or “et cetera” with “and.”  “Et” means “and.”  Adding “and” is duplicative.
-Do not italicize “etc.” or “et cetera.” 
-“Etc.” or “et cetera” should always be preceded by a comma.
-“Etc.” and “et cetera” should not be used when speaking of persons.  The lawyer’s favorite, “et al.,” is appropriate in that situation.
-Use one and only one “etc.” at the end of a list.
Consider the following appropriate uses of "etc.":
To prepare for our trip, please pack toiletries, cosmetics, clothes, etc.
My favorite books, A Hundred Years of Solitude, The World According to Garp, etc., have influenced my writing style.    
My favorite authors, Garcia Marquez, Irving, et al., have influenced my writing style.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Avoid Wordiness and Verbosity (Get the joke?)

Judge Steven Merryday of the Middle District of Florida recently taught a practitioner a lesson about conciseness.  The plaintiff's attorney sought leave to file a brief that exceeded the court's page-limit restriction.  Judge Merryday denied the motion, noting that the brief could be brought within the court's 25-page limit through use of "a modicum of informed editorial revision."

Judge Merryday's order can be accessed at:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Discoverability of Facebook Activity

A number of courts recently have held that information posted on social networking sites is discoverable, even where the poster used privacy settings to limit the dissemination of information.  For example, in Romano v. Steelcase, Inc., 30 Misc.3d 426, 907 N.Y.S.2d 650 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Sept. 21, 2010), the defendant in a personal injury action sought production of information contained on the plaintiff’s MySpace and Facebook pages, including archived information.  The Suffolk County Supreme Court held the information was discoverable.  The court noted that while both sites offer privacy controls, both also warn users that information on their pages and profiles may be available to others.  Furthermore, according to the court, people who use social networking sites consent to have their personal information shared, and there are minimal privacy concerns where a person voluntarily shares information with others. Id

The same result occurred in Largent v. Reed, No. 2009-1283 (Pa. C.P. Nov. 8, 2011), where the court found information on the plaintiff’s Facebook page was discoverable.  The court held there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information shared on Facebook, a social networking site.  According to the court, only the “uninitiated or foolish” would believe information posted on Facebook is private. See also Pororcaro v. City of New York, No. 100406/10, 2012 WL 1231021 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. April 9, 2012) (one who voluntarily posts information on Facebook cannot claim the information is immune from discovery).

Attorneys defending certain cases (most notably, personal injury actions) are wise to request access to an opposing party’s social networking profiles--remembering, however, the sword cuts both ways.  A picture showing a personal-injury plaintiff roller skating is equal in worth to a video showing a defendant who claims to be a conscientious driver drag racing.

These cases also are a reminder to all of us with an online presence--be careful what you post!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Judge Kozinski, Disagreeing with Everyone

As lawyers know, judicial opinions written by panels of judges often are not unanimous.  A judge who disagrees with the majority opinion generally writes a dissent.  Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, has taken it to another level.  In the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Garfias-Rodriguez v. Holder, ---F.3d ---, No. 09-72603,  2012 WL 5077137 (9th Cir. October 19, 2012), an immigration case, Judge Kozinski wrote a dissenting opinion “disagreeing with everyone.”  Who needs a plain ’ole dissenting opinion?  Not Judge Kozinski. 

As someone who frequently disagrees with everyone, I find the description of this dissent especially funny.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Don't Write in Crayon

The short opinion in Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp, Inc., 147 F.Supp.2d 668 (S.D.Tex. 2001) on statutes of limitations and the Erie doctrine is worth a read for every lawyer interested in learning what not to do in drafting motions.  Both the plaintiff’s motion and one defendant’s motion suffered from a lack of either supporting authority or analysis.  The dry, sarcastic tone of the entire opinion is hilarious.  My favorite sentence:

Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact—complete with hats, handshakes, and cryptic words—to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.
Id. at 670.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Continuous or Continual?

Many writers use continuous and continual interchangeably.  These words have different, distinct meanings.  Continuous refers to something that occurs for a period of time without interruption (e.g. that is constant).  Continual refers to something that occurs over a period of time with interruption (e.g. that is periodic).  I remember the differences between these two terms through references to water. 

The tap continually dripped.  The water, however, continuously ran through the hose. 

Drips aren’t constant, they come at intervals, so the word continual is applicable.  Water running through a hose, however, is constant and, therefore, continuous is the appropriate word.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's J-U-D-G-M-E-N-T

Dear lawyers:

“Judgement” is not a word.  The proper spelling for the word meaning “a formal decision or opinion of a court” is J-U-D-G-M-E-N-T. 

Thank you for utilizing your spell-check function and spelling this word correctly in the future.   


Friday, September 28, 2012

Wary, Weary, and Leery

The term “weary” means exhausted or tired.  Many people use “weary,” however, when they should use “leery,”* meaning suspicious or doubtful. 

          He was weary of the motives of people he did not know.

This is not the correct use of “weary.” 

The mix-up probably is the result of the comparable definitions of “leery” and “wary” (obviously similar to “weary”).  “Wary” means watchful or distrusting, which is pretty close to suspicious. So,

A tired person is weary, a suspicious person is leery, and a store owner casts a wary glance at people who might steal his merchandise.

Hats off to Krisi Hartig, a student in my Advanced Legal Writing course at Mercer Law School, for suggesting this post!

*note the spelling—L-E-E-R-Y, not L-E-A-R-Y.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Email Etiquette

Lawyers write millions of emails every day.  For many, including me, email is the preferred method of communication.  Below are some tips to make your email communications more effective and professional.

1. Do not send an email without a meaningful subject line.

Every email should have a meaningful subject line.  Subject lines should be descriptive enough to give the reader an idea about the contents of the email and to enable the reader to easily catalog or categorize the email once she receives it.  Subject lines like “meeting” and “discovery” should be avoided.  My “go to” subject line is the name of the case and the topic about which I’m writing. For example, some good subjects include:  

Mason v. Link the Cat, Inc.—Scheduling Depositions
Neculae v. Corbett d/b/a Sticky Fingers—Expert Report
General Liability Seminar—Coverage Issues PP Presentation  
July 17, 2012 Associate Seminar 

2. An email should be formatted like a short letter.

I know, I know, I can hear you all now—“Who has time to write emails that way?” It really doesn’t take much longer and makes a huge difference. All I really mean here is that emails should contain a greeting and a signature and be written using complete sentences. The greeting can be as simple as the person’s name and the signature can be as short as “thank you.” Just imagine that each and every email you send may end up attached to a motion one day. If you would be embarrassed for a judge to see your email, you need to rewrite it.



I am in receipt of your July 21, 2012 letter regarding the depositions of your clients. I am available to take those depositions on August 8, 2012. I will file the notices of deposition this week and will have my assistant obtain the services of a court reporter.

Thank you for your assistance in getting these depositions scheduled quickly. I will see you at your office on August 8, 2012.



I got your letter about the depos. We are good to go August 8. I’ll get the court reporter.


3. Keep your email as short as possible while providing all necessary information.

Emails should be short and to the point while containing all necessary information. Paragraphs should be short as well for ease of reading. If you are making multiple points in an email or listing multiple items, it is convenient to use numbered or bullet points. For example,

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for speaking with me today about this case.

As we discussed, we are in the process of evaluating your client’s claim, but we have not received copies of all your client’s medical records for treatment related to the March 27, 2012 accident. Based on our conversation, I believe we are lacking records from the following providers:

1. Atlanta Medical Center;
2. Resurgens Orthopaedics;
3. Atlanta Family Medicine; and
4. CVS Pharmacy

I understand you have copies of these four sets of records. To minimize copying costs, please send a disc with those records to my attention at the address below.

Thank you. I look forward to receiving the records soon.


4. Use spell check.

As with letters, pleadings, and any other professional documents, you should use your spell check feature.  You would be amazed how many people use spell check functions religiously on documents typed in a word processing program, but never use them for emails.  Don’t, however, rely solely on spell check features.  Proofread emails just like you would other documents.

5. If you are looking for a response, tell the reader the response you want.

People are not mind-readers, and the easier it is for your recipient to respond to your email, the more likely he will be to do so.  If you send an email with the expectation of a response, specify the response you want. For example,

RE:   Berthelsen v. Burke—Burke Release

Dear William,

As you know, I represent ABC Insurance Company in the above-referenced matter.  It is my understanding that State Farm Insurance Company has paid $25,000 to settle Mr. Berthelsen’s claims against Ms. Burke pursuant to a limited liability release.  At your earliest convenience, please forward me a copy of the signed release.  Please feel free to email the release if that is more convenient.

Thank you.

6. Important communications should still be put in letters.

This may seem a little old-fashioned, but I absolutely abide by this rule, for a couple of reasons.  First, I use letters to communicate the seriousness of the information I’m providing.  I believe people take letters more seriously than emails.  It’s also much easier to say “I never got your email—it must have gotten caught in my spam filter” than to say “I never got your letter even though you sent it to me at my office address and I’ve received every other letter you’ve sent me.”  Second, I believe important communications should contain a handwritten signature.  Many secretaries draft and/or send emails on behalf of the attorneys for whom they work, and sometimes I’m not sure whether the email I’m receiving is really from the attorney.

Aren’t all communications important, you ask?  Of course, but some are more important than others.  While there is no set “list,” here’s a list of sample topics that I deem important enough to warrant a letter, as opposed to an email:

-Settlement communications
-Rule 6.4 letters; and
-Discussions about conduct that may later require a motion.  For example, if I think I might eventually have to file a motion to compel discovery responses or compel someone to attend a deposition, I put all communications warning that I intend to make such a filing in letters rather than emails. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Misused Words

People, including lawyers, misuse these words all the time.

Publix got it right!

Few people know the way to properly use these words. (See what I did there—if not, you will). The term few should be used when talking about objects that can be numbered. The term less should be used when discussing a non-specific quantity of something.

Mary had only a few dollars in her wallet.

Mary made significantly less money than her friends.

Accept means to receive something, while except means to exclude something. Accept is a verb. Except is a preposition meaning “other than.”

Mary gladly accepted a scholarship from State University.
Mary liked every class she took at State University except Western Civilizations.

These are the two words I most frequently see misused. Affect is a verb and means impacting or influencing. Effect is a noun and is the result of the impact or influence. To affect something is to produce an effect in that thing. For example,

Mary was affected greatly by her mother’s death.
The death of Mary’s mother had a great effect on Mary.

Alot/a lot
Alot is not a word (allot means something different); a lot means many. I personally was told years ago never to use the term “a lot,” so I don’t. If you feel inclined to use it, please make sure to use two words.

Mary used a lot of highlighters during her final exams.

These are personal pet peeves of mine. Watch a 30 minute news cast and I bet you will count at least 5 times where these words are misused. The term anxious means concerned about a future happening. The term eager means excited about future happening.

Mary eagerly awaited the day she would graduate from college.
Mary anxiously waited for the results of her skin cancer screening.

Ascent means the action of climbing or rising. Assent means agreement.

Mary ascended the stairs to the lecture hall.
Mary assented to help her classmate study for the test.

These two also are often confused. Assure means convince. Ensure means to make certain.

Mary assured her mother that she would do well in her classes.
Mary’s mother hired a tutor to ensure that Mary did well in her classes.

The term elicit means to bring out. Illicit means illegal.

Mary sent an email to her professor to elicit a response about the date of the final examination.
Mary avoided parties where illicit activity might occur.

These are two more words that few people use properly. Lay (and its tenses—laid and laying) means to place. Lie (and its tenses—lay, lain and lying) means to recline.

Mary laid her purse on the table and walked to her bedroom.
After placing her purse on the table, Mary walked to her bedroom to lie down.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Well Done, Weldon Firm

Earlier this week, on my way home from a very long day of depositions, I noticed a billboard for the Weldon Firm.  What caught my eye was not the advertisement itself, which, as expected, featured a picture of a smiling lawyer looking stately and sharp.  I was intrigued by the firm’s slogan:

                      “For a Job Weldon.”  

I want to hate this; but, in reality, I kind of love it.*  It’s definitely different from the traditional law firm slogans, which usually read something like “We Get Results” or “You Can Count on Us” or “A Law Firm You Can Trust,” all of which are generic and tell us absolutely nothing.

I hope others appreciate the Weldon Firm’s witty slogan too.  In a time when every lawyer is trying to distinguish himself, the Weldon Firm should be applauded for its outside-the-box thinking.  Why offer a boring slogan that looks and sounds like that of every other firm when you can use your name to create a catchy, clever slogan that people remember?  Well done, Weldon Firm.   

*I love word play and puns.  This love started early.  I distinctly remember being five when my father explained why "wet" and "whet" don't mean the same thing, even though they sound the same. (What a difference an “h” makes!)  This discussion came up in the context of an old folk song my father loved to sing, albeit poorly, “There’s a Hole in the Bucket.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Splice of Life

A writer commits a comma splice error when she connects two independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction.  Essentially, a comma splice is a run-on sentence.  For example:

The defendant placed his finger on the trigger, he fired the gun at the victim.

At the risk of sounding too big for my britches, as my grandmother would have said, I personally find it difficult to believe educated people commit these errors, but I see them every day.
There are essentially three ways to correct comma splices—join the independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction, make one clause dependent, or separate the clauses into two sentences.*   Don’t let the term “coordinating conjunction” scare you.  It is a fancy name for words we all use in most every sentence we write—and, but, yet, so, or, and nor. 

Joining the Clauses
If you choose to join the clauses, you should use one of the 6 coordinating conjunctions listed above preceded by, not followed by, a comma.** 

The defendant placed his finger on the trigger, and he fired the gun at the victim.

Making One Clause Dependent
If you choose to make one clause dependent, you simply join the clauses with a comma.

When the defendant placed his finger on the trigger, he fired the gun at the victim.
Because the defendant placed his finger on the trigger, he fired the fun at the victim. 

Separating the Clauses
If you choose to separate the clauses, they should be separated into two sentences using a period, an exclamation point,*** or a question mark.

The defendant placed his finger on the trigger.  He fired the gun at the victim.

*Technically, you also can separate them with a semicolon.  I personally don’t recommend this option unless you have an appropriate understanding of the use of semicolons.  It has been my experience that a large number of lawyers (and, perhaps, writers in general) do not.  
**As with all grammar rules, this rule is not applicable 100% of the time.  For example, in the following sentence, no comma is needed:
The defendant placed his finger on the trigger and fired the gun at the victim.
Without getting too technical, no comma is required in the sentence above because I’ve re-worded it so that it no longer has two independent clauses and the word “and” merely connects the compound verbs “placed” and “fired.”  The clause “fired the gun” isn’t independent—it can’t stand on its own.
***I personally believe exclamation points should not be used in formal legal writing.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Good Cigar is a Smoke

Several weeks ago, the Illinois Bar Association recommended that Richard Connors be disbarred because of a conviction in 2002 for violating the Trading with the Enemy Act (50 U.S.C. sections 5(b)(1) and 16).  Mr. Connors’ crime? Smuggling Cuban cigars. 

From 1996 to 1999, Mr. Connors apparently made no less than 31 trips to Cuba and smuggled thousands of Cuban cigars into the United States via the Mexican and Canadian borders.  This operation apparently was quite lucrative—the cigars were sold in the United States for around $350 per box.

What makes this story worthy of a post on a legal writing blog?  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ judicial notice of the “cachet” of cigars.  In the court’s 2006 opinion affirming Connors’ conviction, the court, quoting Cigar Aficionado,* observed:

[T]he leaves grown in the fertile soil of the Vuelta Abajo…cultivated and prepared according to centuries-old traditions, produce an incomparably smooth, pungent, and full-bodied smoke.

U.S. v. Connors, 441 F.3d 527 (7th Cir. 2006). 

And, most interestingly, the Seventh Circuit noted it is not only Cuban cigars, but all cigars, that occupy a certain level of prestige in our society, quoting Rudyard Kipling from The Betrothed—“A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke.”

* I haven’t checked, but I suspect this is the single instance in which Cigar Aficionado magazine has been cited as a judicial source.    

Monday, August 13, 2012

So "App"ealing

We all use our iPhones entirely too much these days, but the App Store has some interesting offerings for lexophiles.  Below are some of my favorite apps for word nerds:

This cool free app pulls the “word of the day” from several different sources.  You can use the app to impress all your friends by writing a sentence with the new word you learned and posting the sentence to Facebook or Twitter.  Vocabology also has a quiz feature that allows you to test yourself on the words you’ve viewed on the app.

Merriam Webster
As you’d imagine, this app is a dictionary.  It has several other interesting features, though, including voice search, pronunciation, and a word-of-the day.  The $3.99 premium app also features a thesaurus and illustrations.

Grammar Up
This free app features grammar tests and explanations on a variety of topics including prepositions, similar words, pronouns, conjunctions, adjectives, and adverbs.  The tests are designed to simulate the TOEIC English proficiency test.  The full version has 1,800 questions across 20 different grammar categories and allows the user to track speed and proficiency.

Word vs. Word
This game is very addictive and very fun.  You can play by yourself or against others.  The goal is to guess a secret word by process of elimination.  The first player to guess the word correctly wins.  It’s a bit like the game Battleship, but with words. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Here Lives a Lawyer!

Thank you for your patience while I was away from blogging on vacation.  I will return to my regular weekly blogging schedule shortly.  In the interim, I want to share with you a little trinket I picked up on my travels.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Rarely does a federal appellate court opinion come along that relates solely to the conduct of one of the lawyers handling the case. That, however, is exactly what happened in Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792 (7th Cir. 2011). 

An attorney* acting on behalf of the plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants but, after giving the attorney three separate chances to file a complaint that complied with Rule 8 (which requires that a complaint be simple, concise, and direct) and Rule 10(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the trial court dismissed the case with prejudice. 
The plaintiff appealed; however, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the action with prejudice because of the failure of the plaintiff’s attorney to correct deficiencies in the “generally incomprehensible” documents he filed with the court. Id. at 793. For those familiar with the term, plaintiff’s counsel’s writing in this particular case is best described as a “hot mess.” Consider these gems offered by the Seventh Circuit as sufficient justification for the trial court’s dismissal of the action:
(1) At least 23 sentences contained more than 100 words;
(2) All three documents contained “rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors";
(3) The original complaint, first amended complaint and second amended complaint all contained a “staggering and incomprehensible 345-word sentence"**; and
(4) The trial court pointed out specific errors in the original complaint but the later-filed complaints contained the very same errors.
In addition to affirming the trial court’s dismissal, the Seventh Circuit ordered the attorney to show cause as to why he should not be removed or suspended from the Seventh Circuit’s bar and ordered the clerk to forward a copy of the opinion to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
I don’t want to be too hard on this attorney because he apparently was suffering from some severe health problems during the time he was handling this case. Suffice it to say that this attorney’s conduct and writing is a primer on what not to do.
* Interestingly, for those who follow high-profile criminal cases, this attorney also represented former Bolingbrook, Illinois police officer Drew Peterson in civil matters related to his arrest for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. That arrest occurred after Mr. Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in October 2007.
** The entire 345-word sentence, including all original errors, is quoted below:
That pursuant to the RICO Act, Defendants extortive activities constituted a Pattern of Racketeering activity and conspiracy involving violations of 1956(a)(1)(B)(ii), and 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (wire fraud—the use of interstate mail or wire facilities, here telephone and facsimile transmissions), or the causing of any of those things promoting unlawful activity), and 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (interference with commerce and extortion by using and threatening to use legitimate governmental powers to obtain an illegitimate objectives under color of official right by wrongful plan, extortion, intimidation and threat of force and/or other unlawful consequence and through fear and misuse of there office to obstruct, hinder, interfere with, and/or affect commerce and the use and enjoyment of Plaintiffs' property and obtaining, as uniformed public officials payment for unwanted services to which they were not e

ntitled by law, attempting to conceal from the United States of America their true and correct income and the nature thereof so obtained from Plaintiffs in order to attempt to evade paying lawful taxes thereon in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7201, et. seq., thereby using the governmental powers with which they have been entrusted to gain personal or illegitimate rewards and payments which they knew or should have known were made and/or obtained in return for the colorable official acts as aforesaid, and knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity all in violation of RICO and the other laws set forth herein, inter alia, as well as acts chargeable under any of the following provisions of the laws of the State of Illinois 720 ILCS 5/33-3(d) (official misconduct); 720 ILCS 5/12-11 (criminal home invasion); 720 ILCS 5/19-4 (criminal trespass to a residence) 720 ILCS 5/19-4); (theft 720 ILCS 5/16 (a)(1) & (2) by knowingly obtaining or exerting unauthorized and/or through threat control over Plaintiff's property as aforesaid.
Id. at 802, fn7.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Guilty Pleasure

OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark’s second novel, Guilt by Degrees, follows Los Angeles Special Trials District Attorney Rachel Knight as she takes over a murder prosecution bungled by a less-qualified D.A.   Rachel soon discovers the victim is the brother of a police officer killed years before in a vicious attack, and there may be a link between the brothers’ murders and the officer’s beautiful, mysterious widow. 

Guilt is, by no means, a fine work of literature.  It is, however, at least as interesting as similar bestselling novels by authors such as Jeff Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, and Patricia Cornwell.  Rachel is an interesting heroine and Ms. Clark clearly has worked hard to ensure sufficient character development, something that plagues many novels in this genre.  Guilt concludes with a number of unanswered questions, both about the case and about Rachel herself, that are sure to be addressed in the third Rachel Knight novel on which Ms. Clark apparently is still working.      

The most interesting parts of this novel for me are the ones clearly written from Ms. Clark’s heart.  In one part, Rachel is speaking with a district attorney who lost a high-profile case.  The way in which Ms. Clark describes the effect the loss had on this D.A., who otherwise had an impeccable track record, smacks of the way Ms. Clark herself must have felt after the Simpson prosecution and all the negative press she received as a result.   Ms. Clark also works throughout the novel to portray the camaraderie and relationships between Rachel and the people with whom she works, relationships that almost certainly must be based on those Ms. Clark had with colleagues and investigators during her years as a prosecutor.   

While I recommend Guilt as an entertaining summer read, there are parts I’m not crazy about.  The pace of the book is skewed at times, particularly toward the end, where it feels a bit like Ms. Clark tries to cram 100 pages worth of story into half that space.  While the first 300-350 pages flow at a relatively constant pace, the last pages fly by at breakneck speed. 

The book also has too many superfluous storylines and details for my taste.  Much of the story takes place in various restaurants and bars where Ms. Clark describes in painstaking detail every martini, glass of wine, and meal that any character consumes.  No one loves to eat and drink more than me, but the descriptions are distracting at times.  Additionally, a number of minor characters are described in painstaking detail, only to offer some superfluous piece of information and then disappear completely, never to be heard from again.

Despite these flaws, Guilt is a fun, quick read perfect for a round-trip flight or a day at the beach—it’s a good mix of substance and brain candy.  Guilt is definitely a Guilty pleasure.    

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Avoiding Tpyos

This recent article is a reminder of how difficult proofreading can be. 

A similar incident occurred when I was in law school.  The assistant in the career services office sent out an email to the entire student body about the Pubic Sector Career Fair.  I did not initially notice the typo, and do not believe many of my fellow students did either, until some smart-ass hit the "Reply All" button and pointed out the error.  Needless to say, the secretary was mortified and quickly sent an apology email.

While typos and grammatical errors happen, even to the best of us, these tips can help writers avoid embarrassment:

1.         Do not try to proofread on a computer screen.

It is much easier to find typos and grammatical errors when you proofread a document on paper as opposed to a computer screen.  I have never read any explanation for this phenomenon, though I suspect it is because people read more quickly off a screen than off paper.  You will be amazed how many errors escape detection on screen but are easily caught when proofreading from paper.  It also is much easier to catch formatting errors and font discrepancies on paper than on a screen.  

2.         Turn off any "auto correct" feature. 

I once had a client whose last name was Voit.  Every time I typed his name, my word processing program would attempt to change Voit to vomit.  That case was a nightmare, and made me want to vomit every time I thought about it, but it would have been highly embarrassing to send a letter or email addressed to Mr. Vomit.  Auto correct features often can do more harm than good.  Instead, use a spell check feature* to catch misspellings before printing a document to proofread.

*But see number 3 below

3.         Do not rely solely on spell check features.

While spell check features are very handy, do not rely solely on them and do not get into the habit of clicking "Change" without checking to see that you really want to change the spelling of the word.  Many words with legal significance, such as “voir dire” and “pro hac vice,” get caught by a spell check feature, and if you are not careful, your motion in limine will pertain to “void dire,” and your application will end up being “pro hack** vice.”  

**I have known a number of lawyers who are hacks, but you get the point.

4.         Double check short, frequently used words.

Writers frequently mix up "is" and "it," "of," "or," and "on," and "to," and "do," among others.  Proofreaders are prone to miss these errors because as we read, we are focusing on the larger, more important words in our sentences and often mentally gloss over the smaller, less significant words.  Be sure to check the smaller words in your documents too.

NOTE:            Many proofreading professionals' number one tip is to avoid proofreading a document immediately after you have drafted it.  As a practicing attorney, I know this is not possible 95 percent of the time.  Of course, if you have time, it is always best to wait a few hours (or a day) after drafting a document to proofread it.     

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Musings on Modern Feminism

Much has been written about this article since it appeared several weeks ago in The Atlantic.  It is a fascinating read.  Hopefully it will inspire honest discourse about these topics from men and women alike.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unique Means Unique

The word “unique” means one of a kind*.  Something either is unique (one of a kind) or it is not.  There are no degrees of uniqueness.  Something can no more be “somewhat unique” than it can be “very unique.”  When people say “somewhat unique,” what they really mean is rare or infrequent.  When people say “very unique,” I have no idea what they mean, and I doubt they do either.

*Incidentally, for those wondering, the term "one of a kind" should be hypenated when it is being used as an adjective (called a hyphenated adjective).  For example, Erin is a one-of-a-kind friend. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

No (Pit) Bull

DeKalb County, Georgia has a zoning* ordinance regarding the keeping of household pets. Until recently, the ordinance defined the term "household pets" to specifically exclude, among other animals, pit bulls. The general public understood this ordinance to ban the ownership of pit bulls by any DeKalb County resident.**

The problem? The term "pit bull" was not defined anywhere in that ordinance or any other DeKalb County ordinance, and “pit bull” it not a recognized breed of dog. The term "pit bull" generally refers to American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and mixed dogs of those breeds.

Thus, because the term "pit bull" is not a recognized breed of dog and has no legal definition, DeKalb County was never able to enforce the ordinance.

Apparently every citation written for ownership of a pit bull later was dismissed because the DeKalb County courts found the ordinance was vague and, therefore, unenforceable.  In May 2012, DeKalb County finally removed the "pit bull" language from the zoning ordinance.  

This is just another example of how sloppy legal drafting led to a confusing and unenforceable law. As Albert Einstein noted, "Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law than passing laws which*** cannot be enforced."

*It remains unclear why this apparent attempt to ban the ownership of pit bulls was put into DeKalb County's zoning ordinances rather than, for example, its animal control ordinances.

**Whether it actually did so is questionable. A careful reading of this ordinance shows that it did not ban ownership of pit bulls. It simply excluded pit bulls from the definition of the term "household pets."

***See my post entitled "That Which Does Not Kill Us." This "which" should be a "that." No matter--the sentiment is well-taken.