Legal writing is a highly refined skill, taught extensively at law schools. If you need something filed in court you should always have an attorney write it and file it for you. Legal writing is so demanding that even lawyers sometimes make mistakes. Here are two recent stories about attorneys that made mistakes when writing their documents:
– Attorney Reprimanded for Failure to Ellipsis.
One of the most detail oriented skills an attorney is trained in is proper legal citation and quotation. Whenever an attorney argues a point in writing he should refer to previous decisions by the same court, or by a higher court, to show that what he is asking for complies with the law. Attorneys also have to refer to the prior actions and statements of the court in the same case. The problem is mastering how to use those citations and quotes and to properly show their context, original location, and intent. A Massachusetts lawyer recently omitted ellipses from his quotes and has been reprimanded for his failure. The lawyer made edits to a quote, omitting some of the text from the original. He should have used an ellipsis, that sometimes seen dot-dot-dot (…) that indicates that something is missing. This lawyer failed to do so and is now being reprimanded in writing by his disciplinary committee.
– Attorney’s Brief Criticized for “Rambling”
Another skill attorneys are taught is brevity. Legal writing should be short, effective, and to the point. Courts often are overwhelmed with the case load and paperwork they are given. In order to keep the load flowing judges often set page lengths, word lengths, margin widths, and allowed font types. Most attorneys are aware of these limitations or know where they can find the rules each individual judge will want them to follow. In the 7th Appellate Circuit (the federal appeals court including Chicago) an attorney recently filed an excessively long, “rambling” brief. The rule required briefs to be less than 14,000 words, but the attorney filed a brief over the limit. The Appellate Court issued a scathing opinion, pointing out that the brief was not only too long, but that it was without merit. This written criticism by some of the country’s most respected judges will become a part of the permanent public record. The opinion of the judges specifically cautions that future violations of the limits may result in immediate dismissal.
Pro-se Document 10 Times too Long. (A personal anecdote.)
One of the first legal jobs I had while in law school was to edit documents written by pro-se litigants. I was once presented with a 100 page document that was repetitive, rambling, and poorly formatted. After a few hours I had it down to 11 pages. When I presented it to the partner managing the case he managed to shave off another couple of pages. After our revisions the document was powerful, concise, and something a judge would be able to read. If we had not made them, the case could have been lost just for bad writing.
So, if you have any kind of legal papers you want filed or reviewed, please Call Urban & Burt. Our senior attorneys have decades of experience in legal writing. We can make certain that whatever you file will be short, to the point, and effective.