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.”