My five-year-old started kindergarten this month. I was mortified in the first week when, after getting her to school two or three minutes after the late bell had rung two days in a row, we were both chastized by the principal on each of those two days. I thought my days of getting in trouble with the principal were over once I graduated high school, but apparently, I was wrong.
I feel much better now after reading an article in the ABA Weekly Law Journal Newsletter I received last week. A federal judge in the Middle District of Florida apparently became fed up with an attorney's sloppy brief writing and took it upon himself to mark up the attorney's brief with red ink. He then ordered the attorney to file a Notice of Complaince certifying that he had personally delivered the marked up motion to his client.
Writing skills among the bar have become quite deplorable. We are, after all, professional writers and should pride ourselves in producing quality writing. While the Florida attorney's work was a bit sloppy, his is not the worst I have seen from opposing counsel. More than once I have had to attempt to explain to the court in my brief what I believed opposing counsel's arguments were before even attempting to refute their arguments, simply because their brief was so unintelligible. I once had to respond to a brief with a sentence that was half a page long. And that is not hyperbole; it was literally half a page in length before encountering even a comma, much less a period.
The practice of law would improve immensely if counsel would take the time to pick up a style manual once in a while, or have another set of eyes edit for typos or even just for comprehensibility. Counsel does not serve her clients' best interests if the judge can't understand the arguments in the written motion. We all understand that deadlines and time crunches can make it impossible to produce the perfect prose to get our points across, but typos aside, we should all strive to tell our clients' stories in a way the judge will understand. We may not be in school anymore, but our written work is still going to be judged and evaluated. So, even if your motion doesn't come back with a grade, dripping in red ink with a requirement that your parents sign it your client sees it, make sure you proof and edit your written work before filing it with the court. And I vow to do better at getting my Kindergartener to school on time.