5 Grammar Mistakes Lawyers Make - Strategist
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5 Grammar Mistakes Lawyers Make

At FindLaw, thankfully, we have editors. Without these editors, my five or six posts per day would be plagued with improperly capitalized Courts [sic], extraneous apostrophe's [sic], and shifting tenses left over from rapid revisions.

(Editor's Note: Well, we try.)

You don't have an editor. For important court documents, you may have a paralegal or associate around to review your briefs, but for quick emails, blog posts (always have someone review your posts), and other urgent matters, it's easy to skip the proofreading and leave the mistakes intact.

What's the solution? Don't make the mistakes in the first place. Here are five rules to review:

5. Hyphenating Adverbs

This is a good one, courtesy of Catherine Beale, who opines that Harvard Law grads can't write worth a damn: Hyphenate adjectives, not adverbs.

Slow-moving truck is proper. Slowly-moving truck is not.

4. It's/Its

More than the best ice cream sandwiches around, the it's/its confusion plagues many. It's is a contraction of "it is." Its confers possession.

It's about time that we learned this rule. Its importance is vastly underrated.

3. Capitalizing Court

This is my biggest writing demon. When do you capitalize "court"? We'd cite the Bluebook directly, but it's behind a pay wall.

According to Denver Law's Legal Writing Clinic, which cites Rules B7.3.1 and 8, there are three instances where capitalization is called for:

    • When "naming any court in full." (The United States District Court for the Central District of California)
    • When "referring to the [United States] Supreme Court." (Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the Court's opinion)
    • When "referring to the court that will be receiving that document." (This Court should grant the motion to exclude ...)

Georgetown Law's Writing Center phrases the rule differently.

"[W]ords such as 'act,' 'circuit,' or 'court': capitalize them only when they refer to a specific act, circuit, etc., not when they are used as a generic reference. Thus, you would write that 'on February 19, 2001, the District Court ruled in this case . . .,' but that 'district courts are bound by the rulings of the circuit court of the circuit to which they belong.'"

2. Capitalize Internet?

A question so convoluted that it has its own Wikipedia page.

The short version: there used to be a distinction between the proper noun Internet (our big World Wide Web as we know it) and the shortened form of internetwork, which basically describes any network. People have mostly stopped giving a damn, and the proper noun has become a generic term for a service (I have Internet at home).

Per Wikipedia, The New York Times, the Associated Press, Time, and The Times of India capitalize Internet. The Economist, the Financial Times, the Guardian, Wired, and CNN all adopt the lowercase spelling.

Most of the modern style guides, Chicago Manual of Style included, capitalize Internet, but if you refuse to, you're not alone. (Sidebar: We at FindLaw capitalize Internet because we follow the "Yahoo! Style Guide" and they make us.)

1. Pleaded v. Pled

A battle I refuse to concede, pleaded still sounds awful.

Nonetheless, as we discussed before, SCOTUS has used pleaded in more than 3,000 opinions, compared to 26 instances for pled. If the Court prefers pleaded, it's probably the way to go.

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