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Sure, you can split an infinitive, but this is ridiculous.

This blog’s official position on split infinitives is that they’re okay. The Star Trek catch phrase — “to boldly go” — is A-okay with us. But please, please don’t use your freedom from the no-split-infinitives superstition to write a sentence like this:

Is it kosher for a law enforcement agency to, pursuant to a lawfully granted search warrant, search your Gmail account without telling you?

I found this on, of all places, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. As my high-school Spanish and Latin teacher, Fr. Gregor, would say, “Et tu, Brute?” The problem isn’t the split; it’s that the split is a chasm — a seven-word something-or-other phrase interrupting another phrase.


Two things wrong with this headline

New Orleans CityBusiness features this headline: N.O. area shed 1,800 jobs over the year. I see two things wrong with this headline.

  1. The subject, “area,” is singular, and should therefore take a singular verb. (The story talks about jobs being lost now. So the verb’s tense is presumably present, not past.)
  2. More importantly, the verb should not be “shed.” That word implies that the 1,800 jobs were unnecessary or superfluous, which insults the 1,800 who lost their jobs. “Loses” would be a more appropriate (and a grammatically correct) verb.

Send a message to the bookstores about usage guides

SPOGG (Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar) reports receiving this e-mail from Bryan Garner:

I have a favor to ask of you as a loyal reader: In the next few hours or days, would you please go to http://www.amazon.com/ or http://www.bn.com/ and buy one or more copies of the new third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage as holiday presents? In fact, keep this gift possibility in mind through the end of the year, won't you?

I need your help in sending a message to the major bookstore chains: they’re not stocking the book because they’ve told Oxford University Press that they consider usage guides a “defunct category.” It’s maddeningly unbelievable. Please help me show them that they’re stupendously wrong.

Meanwhile, in the coming months you might ask about the book when you’re in a bookstore: ask the managers why they don’t stock copies, and encourage them to do so.

If you’re curious to see what effect you’re having, watch the rankings on Amazon.com or Bn.com in coming days and weeks. We’ll be alerting the major chains to those numbers, and we want to get as close to the top 50 as we can. If you're trying to order and see that the book is labeled “out of stock,” order anyway: the effort is also to ensure that the online booksellers keep adequate stocks.

In return for this favor – it’s a grassroots effort – I’ll be happy to inscribe copies that you send to LawProse for that purpose, if you (1) include a filled-out FedEx airbill for returning them to you, and (2) suggest an appropriate inscription.

Thank you for whatever help you can provide in this endeavor to show booksellers that the concern for good English is alive and well.

I already have my copy of this book. I haven’t spent a lot of time with it yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, I got my money’s worth. If you’re waffling, have a look at John McIntyre’s review.


Appellate-practice materials from my “Bridging the Gap” presentation

This afternoon, I’m joining Justice Harry T. Lemmon (retired) in presenting the appellate-practice hour of the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Bridging the Gap seminar for newly minted lawyers. For those participants and others who may be interested:

Participants may also be interested in these two articles by Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit:
  • In Praise of Moot Court — Not!, in which Judge Kozinski discusses the differences between law-school moot-court programs and real-world appellate practice.
  • The Wrong Stuff, in which Judge Kozinski explains how to lose an appeal that, for whatever reason, you must lose.

Plagiarism: An issue for every lawyer

Law professors, judges, and practicing lawyers have one thing in common besides a law degree: All of us write. And in writing, we often borrow from the writings of others. Indeed, a certain amount of borrowing is permissible—even expected.

At what point does borrowing cross the line into plagiarism? Professors Carol Bast and Linda Samuels tackle that question in their article, Plagiarism and Legal Scholarship in the Age of Information Sharing. Although the title suggests that the article is directed toward academia, it also addresses plagiarism issues in judicial chambers and law firms. If you write anything, and if you want to avoid accusations of plagiarism, then you should read it.


Conserving the canvas: Increasing legibility while decreasing tree mortality

If you have some influence in creating or amending court rules governing the form of pleadings and briefs, this post is for you.

In the process of churning out vast quantities of paper, lawyers really do kill a lot of trees. Unfortunately, in complying with some court rules governing the form of our filings, we kill more trees than necessary. As Prof. Ruth Anne Robbins explains, a few simple rule changes would make a big difference. For instance:

  • Many courts require pleadings or briefs to be printed on one side of the paper. Allowing two-sided printing would result in nearly 50% less paper filed.
  • Many courts require all type to be double-spaced, except for block quotations and footnotes. Allowing 1.5-line spacing would shorten most papers filed by around 25%.
Many other changes suggested by Prof. Robbins would not only save trees, but also increase legibility. For the particulars, read her paper, Conserving the Canvas (also available on SSRN).

Defining terms of art

Legal writers often must use terms of art—technical words or phrases unique to a profession. Sometimes these terms come from the legal profession; sometimes they come from other professions, such as medical or engineering. But they all have one thing in common: not everyone knows what they mean. So to make sure that your reader understands a term of art in your writing, define it.

You can define terms of art unobtrusively, without interrupting the flow of your writing. To learn how, read Robert Fugate’s recent article in the Texas Bar Journal, Defining Terms of Art in Legal Writing.

(Hat tips to Wayne Schiess and to my colleague Frank Liantonio.)