A DEEP DIVE.
How can lawyers be so smart, but write so poorly? Or are they just shining the rest of us on about the “smart” part when most of them are really just greedy bastards?
This is an interesting example of legal writing and I thought I’d talk about it. I’ve been thinking deep (and dark!) thoughts about legal writing recently, and I’ve come to the conclusion that far too many lawyers are pompous jackasses. Something must be done!
So, take a look at this. The pronouns are all over the place, and there’s one word that gave me such pause that I had to go back to check. What do you see?
COMES NOW, the Plaintiff, Xxxxxx X. Xxxxxxx, Chartered, by and through its undersigned attorney, pursuant to Rule 2.516 of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, and hereby designates the following, as their primary and electronic mail address and secondary electronic mail address for his co-counsel, as follows:
Okay, so, yeah, I know, I don’t like “electronic mail” myself…it’s so ’80s. But it’s the pronouns that I find confusing.
It seems as though that the “Plaintiff” and “X etc.” and “Chartered” is one business entity, hence the “its” and the singular verb form “designates.” And if you read the sentence, you’ll say, sure, what this is saying is that the Plaintiff is this “X, Chartered,” which is one thing.
Well, then who is “their” referring to? The Plaintiff is one thing, but the Plaintiff is not “and” its undersigned attorney, rather, it’s “by and through” the attorney, so it’s not Plaintiff + Attorney = plural noun = “their.” No. Those commas leave “Chartered” as a singular noun. So, this “their” should read “its.”
Can you argue the lawyer was using the so-called singular “they”? No, because he used “its” already, which was correct. He can’t go back and now try to blend in “they.” It would almost be better to be wrong with conviction (read “ignorance”) and have both these pronouns as “they” than to mix ’em up and be..gasp… inconsistent. (But it’s best to know the rules, use ’em, and be right!)
But the bad writing continues. Let’s look at this phrase:
…and hereby designates the following, as their primary and electronic mail address and secondary electronic mail address for his co-counsel, as follows:
That comma between “following” and “as” should catch your eye. What’s that all about? Is the next phrase parenthetical? A parenthetical phrase is information about something that nice to know, like the name of the “co-counsel,” but not necessary to your ability to understand the sentence. Parenthetical phrases often come in the middle of the sentence and are enclosed by commas. Here’s the test of a parenthetical phrase: can you remove it in its entirety from the sentence and have the sentence still make sense? If so, it’s parenthetical. If it’s not, take out that first comma.
But, in this case, if you remove the material between the commas, the sentence doesn’t make sense, which means it’s necessary to the meaning of the sentence and not parenthetical, which means you need to take away that first comma, like this:
…and hereby designates the following as its primary and electronic mail address and secondary electronic mail address for his co-counsel, as follows:
Okay, but not so fast! Who is “his”? I mean, a corporation (or a chartered business, in this instance) is an entity, not a person. There might be a person named “XXX,” but he is not the plaintiff, the plaintiff is the chartered business that bears his name, and a business is an it. Yes, yes, it’s true. A business is an it. And, as an “it,” it affords a legal buffer zone between the person who chartered it and the outside world. It’s absolutely not a “he.” But, interestingly, the chartered business’s own lawyer has just called the business a “he.”
And for this kind of writing you pay $325 an hour? C’mon!
…and, yes, lawyers, let’s get with the program: It’s email address.
This is how I’d present this material:
COMES NOW, the Plaintiff, Xxxxxx X. Xxxxxxx, Chartered, by and through its undersigned attorney, pursuant to Rule 2.516 of the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, and hereby designates the following as its primary and email address and secondary email address for its co-counsel, as follows:
What does that mean, anyway, when you really try to read it? Like I said…pompous. Jackasses. Pompous jackasses.