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When Pleading Do You Write plaintiff, Plaintiff, or PLAINTIFF?

Your legal writing style, believe it or not, matters. Judges, and their clerks, appreciate clear writing devoid of unnecessary terms and phrases. However, when it comes to legal writing, court and local rules, and even individual judges' standing orders, tend to focus on formatting, citation, presentation of exhibits, and other more logistical matters.

One of the great stylistic legal writing debates involves whether to capitalize party designations. Unfortunately, though seemingly logistic, this is not something courts usually provide official guidance on. Matters of style are left to the attorneys to figure out, or sometimes it's left to an attorney's boss to dictate. The current popular school of thought preaches the use of concise, plain language. This means that, as much as possible, a pleading should be understandable by a layperson. But what about capitalization?

And the Blue Book Says ...

If you're referencing the plaintiff in your case, the Blue Book says to use "Plaintiff." If you're referring to a plaintiff, or several plaintiffs, generally, or a plaintiff from a different case (such as one you are citing), the lower case "plaintiff" should be used (unless, of course, it's the first word of a sentence).

The use of the all-caps PLAINTIFF is an archaic style which still gets used by many practitioners. Generally, usage of all-caps for party designations follows the same rule as laid out above, where only the active parties in the case have their designations capitalized. But should you even be using all-caps?

Theretofore, What Are You Writing Hereinafter?

Surely, capitalization won't ever matter as much as an Oxford comma. But making your pleading more readable means it will be easier to read, easier to understand, and easier to work with; all of this means your pleading has a better chance of being fully read. Having all-caps words jumping out all over the page is distracting to a reader. Also, it can send the signal that your pleading's author hasn't kept up with the times, or maybe copied an archaic form, or, worse, lacks recent litigation experience.

The plain language movement has spurred quite a bit of change in the way lawyers draft their pleadings. Law schools now teach aspiring litigators to drop the wherefores, hereinafters, theretofores, come nows, and here ye's (or is it here yeses?) in favor of plain, modern language. But word to the wise, modern language should not include slang, no matter how on fleek your hip turn of phrase may sound. 

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