Writing Advice From the Solicitor General's Style Guide

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 04, 2015 2:59 PM

If you're one of those "good enough" legal practitioners, this piece will make you squirm in your seat. Lawyers must be a dry bunch overall, however, because the The Solicitor General's Style Guide: Second Ed. just took Amazon's #1 new release in legal writing.

This admittedly handy little tool will serve dual functions. Not only is it a helpful desktop reference for practitioners who want their writing to appear its best and to conform to accepted conventions, it also serves as a great nerding-out joke piece for lawyers who get inside jokes.

"Case Law" Versus "Caselaw"

Tweeters had something to say when they opened their guides and thumbed across the guide's preference for the term "case law" over "caselaw" -- no space.

The manner in which President Reagan's Solicitor General described the use of "caselaw" as opposed to the more proper "case law" gives one a sense of the stakes involved. He went so far as to describe the practice of typing "caselaw" as "barbarism" that had to be "extirpat[ed]." A hunt is on for the original document Mr. Fried wrote and a request under the FOIA is pending. Although it is generally agreed that lawyers should strive toward the at least the general direction of excellence, some people take this stuff seriously.

Considering legal scholar's tendency to nitpick over the most seemingly inconsequential details, I can't tell you how nervous I am simply writing this sentence.

Garner -- Yes, That Garner -- Weighs In

Even the venerable Brian Garner of Black's Law Dictionary offered his comments. This guy is generally considered to be the god-father of legal typography, style and use. Surely his opinion has to count.

Garner appealed to the authority of 13 appellate judges when he announced that forthcoming release was tentatively entitled "Caselaw". Brendan M . Kenny, a California Native who practices in Minnesota decided that enough was enough and decided to hold a poll on Twitter pitting "case law" against "caselaw". Kenny jokingly acknowledges that this poll is hardly scientific, but the results are pretty telling.

Wow, 'caselaw'. Them's fighin' words!

Other Writing Tips

  • "Cite" is a verb, not a noun. When seeking the noun form, use "citation."
  • Stop using "hereinafter." Instead, include the short name in the typeface of the source. Done.
  • Start using Century font. Stop using any Courier fonts.
  • You may use a "hair space" following a 'f'' and 'j' when they are followed by ', ", or bracket.

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