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tuquoque

Lawyers and Commas

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On 11/25/2019 at 8:39 AM, tuquoque said:

I've noticed that the legal profession seems to use fewer commas than you generally see everywhere else. I often see sentences like these in pleadings and textbooks:

  • In 2019 the Plaintiffs filed an application.
  • In the alternative the Defendants claim...
  • The car which he acquired in 2012...

Is there any reason that commas are missing in these kind of sentences? I can see how a comma might introduce ambiguity in some circumstances, but I can't see it in these examples. Are there some conventions in the legal profession about commas that I'm missing? 

I've noticed this as well and have thought that perhaps I've simply been misusing commas for my entire life. Not sure if I should follow my personal style (which is to use commas more frequently), or adopt what seems to be the firm's style, for the sake of consistency...

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2 hours ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Can we make fun of the weird way that lawyers love to use "same"?

Kindly complete the paperwork and deliver same to me tomorrow

Nobody else does this and it drives me crazy. 

The worst is when an assistant has been exposed to this sort of wording for decades and now writes in a confused (and confusing) lawyerese-like jibberish. 
 

I must have redrafted hundreds of pieces of correspondence down to about 20% of the words in her drafts. 

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7 minutes ago, spicyfoodftw said:

I've noticed this as well and have thought that perhaps I've simply been misusing commas for my entire life. Not sure if I should follow my personal style (which is to use commas more frequently), or adopt what seems to be the firm's style, for the sake of consistency...

This might be the most soul-crushing thing I’ve read on lawstudents. 

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4 minutes ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

The worst is when an assistant has been exposed to this sort of wording for decades and now writes in a confused (and confusing) lawyerese-like jibberish. 
 

I must have redrafted hundreds of pieces of correspondence down to about 20% of the words in her drafts. 

This is the worst. Or when you get a copy of an agreement that clearly wasn’t drafted by a lawyer but by what I like to call a “legal enthusiast” — those are always fun to try and make sense of. Worse is when you can’t revise it completely and you have to cobble together some weird hybrid. Ugh.

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17 hours ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Can we make fun of the weird way that lawyers love to use "same"?

Kindly complete the paperwork and deliver same to me tomorrow

Nobody else does this and it drives me crazy. 

I feel the same...

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The rules of grammar were largely constructed in the 18th and 19th century to coincide with the democratization of education in the United Kingdom. They are entirely arbitrary and should not become a straight-jacket for your writing style.

Write clearly, concisely, and comprehensively. A judge is not going to pick up on the correct use of a comma, or an em-dash, or a "which" over a "that". They will pick up on a well written submission.

If you need to bend the rules of grammar to convey an idea effectively, then that is perfectly acceptable. Do it.

 

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24 minutes ago, thegoodlaw said:

If you need to bend the rules of grammar to convey an idea effectively, then that is perfectly acceptable. Do it.

 

I think the point is that the vast majority of time you don't. And things generally read better when you follow the rules of grammar. 

That said, there are some stupid rules. Like "not beginning a sentence with a conjunction", or "not ending a sentence with a preposition." Or what I just did there: making a full sentence out of a fragment. All of these actually have a rich history in writing and the "rules" are just stuffy nonsense. 

But other grammatical rules, like using commas in the correct places, or not using "which", actually tend to make things more clear. And, I would argue, not paying attention to the rules around commas could actually cost you. There have been a few notable cases where comma placement was a deciding factor. And there was one, I think, where not using the Oxford comma actually made a difference of millions.

So, bend the rules, sure. Just know which rules to bend.

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21 hours ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Can we make fun of the weird way that lawyers love to use "same"?

Kindly complete the paperwork and deliver same to me tomorrow

Nobody else does this and it drives me crazy. 

Same.

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22 hours ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Can we make fun of the weird way that lawyers love to use "same"?

Kindly complete the paperwork and deliver same to me tomorrow

Nobody else does this and it drives me crazy. 

It's not usually lawyers, but what drives me crazy is people that use "said" in a weird way. 

Kindly complete the paperwork and delivery said paperwork to me tomorrow. 

Nails on a chalkboard. 

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27 minutes ago, OWH said:

It's not usually lawyers, but what drives me crazy is people that use "said" in a weird way. 

Kindly complete the paperwork and delivery said paperwork to me tomorrow. 

Nails on a chalkboard. 

Using said as an adjective is....super normal. 

Edited by whoknows
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27 minutes ago, whoknows said:

Using said as an adjective is....super normal. 

Yeah, said comment was strange..

Edited by pzabbythesecond
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5 hours ago, Ryn said:

I think the point is that the vast majority of time you don't. And things generally read better when you follow the rules of grammar. 

That said, there are some stupid rules. Like "not beginning a sentence with a conjunction", or "not ending a sentence with a preposition." Or what I just did there: making a full sentence out of a fragment. All of these actually have a rich history in writing and the "rules" are just stuffy nonsense. 

But other grammatical rules, like using commas in the correct places, or not using "which", actually tend to make things more clear. And, I would argue, not paying attention to the rules around commas could actually cost you. There have been a few notable cases where comma placement was a deciding factor. And there was one, I think, where not using the Oxford comma actually made a difference of millions.

So, bend the rules, sure. Just know which rules to bend.

Yes, exactly. I can see how my original question about commas might seem pedantic at first, but the proper use of punctuation makes reading much easier and avoids ambiguity. As lawyers, we need to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible, and most grammar rules help with that. 

Edited by tuquoque

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I think my personal favorite "but...why?..." word that I've never heard outside of law (and isn't a technical legal term) is "forenoon". As in "Will make a motion at 9:30 in the forenoon".

But....why...? We invented "am" for a reason...

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1 hour ago, TKNumber3 said:

I think my personal favorite "but...why?..." word that I've never heard outside of law (and isn't a technical legal term) is "forenoon". As in "Will make a motion at 9:30 in the forenoon".

But....why...? We invented "am" for a reason...

I am happy I've never seen that word used.

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An older solicitor I work with told me that when it comes to commas, when in doubt leave it out. He feels you're more likely to get yourself into trouble with them than by omitting them.

 

Meanwhile, I am a fierce advocate of the Oxford Comma.

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40 minutes ago, QueensGrad said:

An older solicitor I work with told me that when it comes to commas, when in doubt leave it out. He feels you're more likely to get yourself into trouble with them than by omitting them.

 

Meanwhile, I am a fierce advocate of the Oxford Comma.

Always. Comma. Or... if it’s grandma... Always. Coma. 

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6 hours ago, leafs_law said:

Always. Comma. Or... if it’s grandma... Always. Coma. 

Punctuation saves lives.

My personal peeve is signatures that end "in yours, we remain" 

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30 minutes ago, artsydork said:

My personal peeve is signatures that end "in yours, we remain" 

Oh god these are the worst. You're writing the Court, not your long lost love who was married off to a French prince against her wishes. 

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