Lousy Legal Writing (Even form letters suck)

Let’s face it, legal writing sucks. Which is to say, the godawful pretentious nature of the humblest of form letters is enough to suck the wind out of anyone that gives a damn about the written word.

This is a letter I recently received. The author’s name has been omitted to protect the guilty. Original in black. My version in red.
——————-

Dear Sir/Madam: Dear Ccounsel (or perhaps, simply Counsel:, depending on my mood)

Enclosed herewith please find defendants’ Bill of Particulars. Enclosed is the defendant’s Bbill of Pparticulars. Please note that at the present time this document is unverified. It is not yet verified.We are in the process of securing same from our clients, and upon receipt of our client’s verifications, we shall forward copies to your office. We hope to receive it soon from our clients and forward it on to you.

Thank you for your anticipated courtesy and cooperation in this matter. Thank you for your anticipated courtesy.

Very truly yours,

/s Lawyer
——————-
The original is 55 words, exclusive of salutation and valediction. Mine is 33 words. Now take this simple form letter and think about it in the context of a brief.

You get the picture.

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14 Responses Leave a comment

  • Dave! 2012.3.1 at 15:54 | Quote

    Dear Counsel:

    Enclosed is the defendants’ unverified Bill of Particulars. We will forward the verification as soon as possible. Thank you for your cooperation.

    Sincerely,

    Lawyer

    22. And a shorter valediction. You New Yorkers are long winded.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.3.1 at 16:07 | Quote

    Better!

  • Eric, I couldn’t help but notice that you misspelled “context” as “contest.”

    So much for the critique…

    And you used the passive tense unnecessarily in your revision (“it is not yet verified”), but who’s keeping track?

    And who really cares about a simple transmittal letter between counsel? Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

    You should post some of your recent briefs and let your readers decide if it’s good legal writing.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.3.1 at 18:11 | Quote

    Well, I wasn’t addressing grammatical issues or typos, but overly wordy pretentiousness.

    As to the who really cares about a mere transmittal letter, I thought it was a good example for a much larger issue.

    And some of my briefs have been posted.

  • Howard Warner 2012.3.1 at 21:52 | Quote

    Nicely done! Good to see a lawyer having a go at waffliness in legal writing. Most lawyers couldn’t care less about laypeople. Even if they did, they have no idea how to write for them. And they’d never go outside their own profession for advice on plain English writing.

    You’ve got the right idea, cutting away the redundant words. And making sentences shorter. And I love your introduction – very plain, clear, dynamic. But how about lowering those capital letters for counsel, bill of particulars etc? These are not names, just generics. It’s an irritating convention of legal writing, capping every little thing – to make it all seem terribly important, perhaps?

    Howard Warner, plain English specialist, New Zealand

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.3.1 at 21:57 | Quote

    You are correct for both bill of particulars and counsel (but only if Dear precedes it). Corrections being made!

  • Howard Warner 2012.3.1 at 23:46 | Quote

    Great! I’m glad you agree. But we plain English practitioners don’t talk in terms of ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ – just what works best for readers.

    @Eric Turkewitz -

  • John Kennedy 2012.3.2 at 09:45 | Quote

    My favorite is “Please be guided accordingly.” When I started (trying) to be a lawyer, my 69 year old secretary said she had always put that on every cover letter. I asked her to stop. She was aghast. You would think I asked her to kill a puppy. I told her it was a non-sensical sentence that said nothing. She never complied.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.3.2 at 10:12 | Quote

    She never complied.

    When I started as a puppy attorney, I was given a very experienced legal secretary. And it was very clear to me who was more important to the firm.

  • Anton Sherwood 2012.3.4 at 17:18 | Quote

    Heh. Perhaps you’ve heard of Marc Stephens, who sends mock-legal threats to bloggers who say unpleasant things about the Burzynski cancer clinic. One blogger (a lawyer) reports that Stephens is fond of the phrase “GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY,” which was new to me but perhaps it has a long history.

    It reminds me of something that the Net’s old fogeys may remember: “UN-altered REPRODUCTION and DISSEMINATION of this IMPORTANT Information is ENCOURAGED, ESPECIALLY to COMPUTER BULLETIN BOARDS.”

  • Mark Bennett 2012.3.7 at 10:53 | Quote

    “Thank you for your anticipated courtesy” irks me. It’s pretentious nonsense. “Very truly yours” is usually a lie, and “Sincerely” should go without saying. My usual valediction is “Thank you” (after I’ve asked for something in the letter).

    If “Bill of Particulars” is the caption of the document, I would capitalize and italicize it. What says Brother Warner?

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.3.7 at 10:57 | Quote

    “Thank you for your anticipated courtesy” irks me. It’s pretentious nonsense.

    In this particular case, the letter-writer is asking for a courtesy because the document was not properly executed. So it could, theoretically, be rejected. If it goes all all letters, it is stupid, but in this spot it is OK.

    As to capitalizing bill of particulars, I looked it up. Lower case is the answer.

  • Mark Bennett 2012.3.7 at 12:33 | Quote

    @Eric Turkewitz
    I think it’s the “anticipated” that bothers me most. Why do you need to say “anticipated”? Isn’t that (like the need for thanks) implicit in the situation?

    To me it’s like you’re trying to make the thanks contingent, which is lawyerly and discourteous.

    A bill of particulars—the generic—shouldn’t be capitalized, but the title of a particular document should be. In your letter, it could go either way, but I would capitalize and italicize to show that not only is that the type of document, but it is also the caption of the particular document.

    Where did you “look it up”?

  • Eric Turkewitz 2012.3.7 at 12:39 | Quote

    Where did you “look it up”?

    I checked the statute that refers to it and then searched some appellate opinions that referred to it. It was always lower case.

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