The Law of Confusion Monday, Mar 29 2010 

Oh the joys of legal writing. Reading cases in my Constitutional Law course at La Salle gives me a taste of the type of writing I will see next year in law school, as well as the type of writing I’ll potentially encounter for the rest of my professional career. To say I have sometimes have moments of true horror would be an understatement. Though I admit that legal writing is type of technical writing containing techniques all it’s own, that’s no reason to throw good sense out the window. Take for example part of the opinion written by Chief Justice Taft in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture:

“Grant the validity of this law, and all that Congress would need to do, hereafter, in seeking to take over to its control any one of the great numbers of subjects of public interest, jurisdiction of which the states have never parted with, and which are reserved to them by the Tenth Amendment, would be to enact a detailed measure of complete regulation of the subject and enforce it by a so-called tax upon departures from it.”

Ok, so technically this sentence is grammatically sound so I can’t completely blast it as completely terrible. But look at it. Really look at it. It’s one sentence! Could it be split into two or more sentences for the sake of clarity? Sure! Does Justice Taft get a prize for keeping it as one sentence? Nope! I have my work set out for me trying to clarify the gunk that is legal writing, but I do think that clarity is contagious. Next year, I’ll be completely surrounded by legal writing, most of which will make me want to scream. But if I can be one less lawyer who avoids this confusion in my writing, I’ll consider my efforts a success.

Source: Mason, Alpheus Thomas, and Donald Grier Stephenson, Jr. ed. American Constitutional Law. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009.


Direction of writing Wednesday, Mar 17 2010 

This week, I talked to some people about the direction of writing and how text messaging and instant messaging has affected the way they and those around them write.

I think therefore I’m a person! Friday, Feb 12 2010 

Sitting in my constitutional law class this week, I learned about more than just my legal rights.  I learned about my personhood.  On the blackboard behind my professor’s head was an ad for the university’s service trip auction.  The ad supplied the time and date along with prices for admission:

“$5/student       $15/person”

Did I miss something?  I was almost positive I learned in constitutional law class that I had the rights of a person.  And I could have sworn from religion classes in my sixteen years of Catholic schooling that I was a person created specially by God.  Or so I was told.  Silly girl!  You’re a student, not a person!  Well, that would explain the poor quality of food they sometimes serve in the dining halls unworthy of human palates.

I’m going to assume the promoters of the service trips auction are not trying to make a political statement and just made an honest mistake.  Simple enough.  But in the interest of preserving my dignity as a human being while I serve the remainder of my years as a student, I can’t overlook the need to clarify that my fellow students and I are indeed people.

Which brings me to my point (didn’t think I had one, did you?).  Mistakes in grammar or word usage may seem harmless enough, but a simple slip could mean the dehumanization of a significant portion of the population. (How significant? Not sure exactly. English majors don’t take many math or statistics classes).  So choose your words wisely for you never know when your slip could create a philosophical crisis of being for your readers or listeners.