Modern Legal Writing, 0521 COBJ, Vol. 50, No. 5 Pg. 18

PositionVol. 50, 5 [Page 18]

50 Colo.Law. 18


No. Vol. 50, No. 5 [Page 18]

Colorado Lawyer

May, 2021

Legal Writing Faux Pas 25 Common Slipups and How to Avoid Them


Even lawyers who are good writers make writing mistakes. It may be that they don’t have a formal editing process,1 or that they don’t know certain rules. Unfortunately, legal writing gaffes can undermine lawyers’ credibility and detract from their arguments.

Can you consistently catch mistakes in legal documents? In this article, you can try your hand at correcting an intentionally flawed writing sample. In the process, you’ll learn a little about some common errors I find when editing documents for other lawyers.

Test Your Editing IQ

By my count, the following paragraph contains 25 errors and patent writing no-no’s (though reasonable minds could differ). How many issues can you spot?

In his January 3, 2018 motion, Jones cites to literally countless Federal cases. He seeks to persuade the court that pro se litigants need not comply with generally applicable standards. According to Jones’ pleading, the judiciary must accept his substandard filings without further inquiry and they must disregard his flouting of filing rules. It is clear that Jones’s interpretation is at odds with well established legal standards. Jones has now filed over a dozen poorly-conceived motions which inaccurately cite legal authority, fail to flush out arguments and ignore relevant rules. Yet, the court heretofore has shown leniency towards Jones, and has accepted all of his submittals. This should go no farther - the court should reject any future nonconforming filings.

The Missteps

Now I’ll identify each error, explain why it’s a problem, and offer a solution. I primarily rely on The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style2 as the authority on legal writing. A corrected version of the writing sample appears at the end of the article.

1. “January 3, 2018 motion” should be rewritten. Normally, when a full date appears mid-sentence, a comma belongs after the year. The Redbook directs writers to omit the comma if a full date is used as an adjective, as here, though other authorities on style disagree. Authorities do agree it’s best to recast the sentence to avoid awkwardness, for example: In his motion filed January 3, 2018, Jones . . . .

2. “[C]ites to” should simply read cites. One does not cite to a legal authority—one cites a legal authority.

3. “[L]iterally” is misused. Literally is generally accepted to mean actually or exactly, not truly or virtually, and misuse of the term grates on many readers (figuratively, not literally). Here, it’s theoretically possible (though perhaps unappealing) to count all of the cases that Jones cited, so literally is not correct.

4. “Federal” should be lowercase. The terms federal and state should not be capitalized unless part of a proper name or title. Examples of correct capitalization include federal law...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT