Kill the zombies, free the verbs

Kill the zombies, free the verbsJuly 26, 2012 Grammar

Thoughtful legal writers generally do a good job of eliminating unnecessary uses of passive voice. So why is their writing still so abstract and dense? The culprit is nominalizations, or zombie nouns, as the beautifully named Helen Sword calls them in a post at the New York Times Opinionator blog. Just as insidious as passive voice but less [...]

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Up for a whirlwind tour of legal writing?

Up for a whirlwind tour of legal writing?June 18, 2012 Legalese

Good!  Join me next Thursday at 1 pm for a one-hour audio-webcast: Writing for Lawyers: A Whirlwind Tour of Legal Writing Fundamentals.  The program is part of a weekly series, One-Hour Briefings, put on by Practising Law Institute (PLI). I’ll call out the most common weaknesses I see in good legal writing, and show you exactly [...]

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Declaration of Independence: Beauty and brains

Declaration of Independence: Beauty and brainsJuly 5, 2011 Legalese

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are experiencing a painless reentry. And why not take some writing inspiration from the document whose signing we just celebrated? The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language.” (Stephen E. Lucas, Justifying America). That sounds [...]

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Friday’s philosophical question: can you "become" what you already have been?

Friday's philosophical question: can you "become" what you already have been?June 3, 2011 Legalese

Let me put that another way: if a woman is already working as a prostitute, can a pimp who recruits her be convicted of “pandering” (that’s legalese for “pimping”), which is committed when someone “induces, persuades or encourages another person to become a prostitute.” I posted about this issue when the California Supreme Court was poised [...]

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Racy legal expressions: "On all fours"

Racy legal expressions: "On all fours"June 1, 2011 Legalese

I spent the day at the N.Y. Court of Appeals today, leading my NYU LLM students on a grown-up field trip. We had the pleasure of meeting with two of the justices and then listening to oral argument in four fascinating cases — one involving the Port Authority’s still unresolved liability for the 1993 WTC [...]

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Racy business terms: the "wet signature"

Racy business terms: the "wet signature"May 31, 2011 Legalese

My husband and I are refinancing — rates are so low it would be negligent not to. And as part of the deal, Miguel Dominguez, my new best friend charming mortgage broker, has taught me a fun new bit of business lingo. He explained that we’ll be able to sign most of the documents online, but that [...]

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Legal writing workshop for my pals at PALS

Legal writing workshop for my pals at PALSMay 10, 2011 Legalese

If you don’t know PALS, you should. It’s short for Practicing Attorneys for Law Students, a mentoring organization for minority law students in the NY area. I lurv PALS for many reasons, not least because the very first writing workshop I ever did was for PALS. In 2004, when I was just launching my business, PALS [...]

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A company may be a person, but it’s not two people.

A company may be a person, but it's not two people.May 2, 2011 Grammar

So we’ve established that the Brits treat collective nouns — like the royal family, the government, and the committee — as plural. Stateside, not so much: U.S. style calls for treating those nouns as singular. Legal writers sometimes wrongly, but understandably, treat collective nouns as plural, as in: In our communications with the government, they [...]

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Aren’t you glad you’re not a tax lawyer?

Aren't you glad you're not a tax lawyer?April 26, 2011 Grammar

Johnson, the Economist’s charming and witty language blog (is it me or is the name slightly suggestive?), recently posted on The Hardest Sentence in the Tax Code. As the NY Times reported, section 509(a) (hereinafter “the Sentence”) is “legendary as the most difficult sentence to understand in the tax code.” That’s no minor distinction — you’d be hard-pressed to [...]

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Legalese: Safer than Ambien, but might leave you groggy.

Legalese: Safer than Ambien, but might leave you groggy.March 30, 2011 Legalese

It’s not every day that a disclaimer makes me laugh out loud.  But today is that day. I just came across this gem at the bottom of an email newsletter from North Social, a funky social-media company. Note: We’re not a law firm. We don’t provide legal advice.  Please review our lengthy terms and conditions [...]

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