Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On Noise

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson would undoubtedly cringe at more than a few of the typical throat clearers seen in today's legal writing, to wit: It is respectfully submitted that plaintiff's reliance on A v. B is misplaced.

Revised: Defendant respectfully submits that plaintiff's reliance on A v. B is misplaced.

Revised again: Plaintiff's reliance on A v. B is misplaced.  He argues that A v. B stands for the principle...

Revised yet again:  Plaintiff erroneously relies on A v. B for the proposition that...

Legal writers at all skill levels employ the "respectfully submitted" phrase as a crutch.  The author may review the draft once for style and revise the sentence to the active voice, yet leave the "respectfully submit" crutch intact, as seen in the first revision above.  Trim the fat.  Cut all the useless phrases in your brief, collapse two sentences to one, and, where appropriate, reword all passive sentences to the active voice.  Lawyers complain they have neither the time nor the resources to indulge in such fine-tuning, as if an overburdened judge or law clerk does enjoy the luxury to read useless placeholders, sentence starters and throat clearers that in no way advance - but, in fact, detract from - your argument.  Chisel away the noise.  Make the brief sing.

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