Monday, March 25, 2013

To Boldly Split...

I recently received a question in class about whether it is appropriate to use split infinitives in legal writing. I then received the question: “What is a split infinitive anyway?”
An infinitive is a verb form created by putting the word “to” in front of a verb, such as:
  • to file
  • to argue
  • to discuss
You split an infinitive* when you insert an adverb between “to” and the verb, such as
  • to quickly file
  • to cleverly argue
  • to harshly discuss
The rule against split infinitives has been around quite a while and is embedded in many people’s brains, though it doesn’t appear in Strunk & White or any other writing guide that I know.
Should you ever split an infinitive? To make a long answer short: it depends, but generally no. Because most readers get hung up on split infinitives, it is generally best to avoid them, especially if you are writing a brief, a cover letter to an employer, or a similar document where you want to leave the best impression. 
Even if you intentionally split an infinitive, the reader won’t necessarily know that. And if the reader is one of those people who is bothered by split infinitives, the reader will be too fixated on the split infinitive to focus on the substance of your document.
However, sometimes a sentence only has the meaning you want it to have if you split the infinitive. For example, consider the differences in these two sentences:
  • The lawyer decided to quickly call the partner before filing the brief.
  • The lawyer decided to call the partner quickly before filing the brief.
The first sentence suggests the lawyer was in a rush to call the partner about the brief. The second suggests the lawyer was hoping for a quick call with the partner about the brief. If there is no way to rewrite a sentence without a split infinitive, split the infinitive. Otherwise, rewrite it. Remember, always strive for clarity.
*Arguably, the most famous split infinitive comes from Star Trek: To Boldly Go

Monday, March 18, 2013

Finished Files

One of my students this semester, Bill Ward, sent me this interesting brain-teaser.


Count the Fs in that sentence ONCE and ONLY ONCE.  How many Fs does the sentence contain? 

The answer can be found here

This little quiz is a reminder of how difficult proofreading can be.  When we are tired or lack focus, our brains don't always proofread accurately.  "Is" looks like "in" and "it," and "on" looks like "of" and "or." 

I am a fan of proofspeaking.  As silly as its sounds, one of the best ways I have found to catch typos and odd-sounding sentences is to read your document out loud, slowly, sounding out every word.  Try it sometime and see if your errors don't jump off the page.    

Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I've composed a Lady (Legal) Writer limerick:

She loved legal writing the best
To teach all its importance was her quest
So she started a blog
To help those in a fog
And hoped she didn't bore all the rest

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Commas Save Lives

Earlier this week, one of my students sent me the link for this great t-shirt.

As many of you know, my practice is primarily focused on insurance coverage and bad faith defense work.  In that type of work, the existence or lack of a comma can mean the difference between no coverage and $1 million in coverage.  I think commas are important, to say the least.  Others apparently agree with me.

The shirt can be found here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

An Accolade for Lady (Legal) Writer

I was perusing the Legal Writing Prof Blog today at lunch when I saw a link to a post on Legal Productivity about top legal writing blogs.  I’m always interested in new blogs and websites about legal writing, so I clicked on the link.  Imagine my surprise when Lady (Legal) Writer was listed at #9! (The exclamation point is 100% acceptable here, just not in formal legal writing.)

The link to the Legal Productivity post is here.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed keeping this blog, even when I’ve been the only one to view my posts.  I hope you enjoy it as well and will continue to visit on a regular basis.  I try to make at least one post per week.  If you ever have topics you’d like to see covered here, or questions or comments about a post, please do not hesitate send me an email and let me know.