What is POFP?

Why do lawyers refer to long documents as briefs and
18-year olds as infants? Why do they use so much Latin when so few of their
clients are Ancient Romans? Is it a conspiracy?

Party of the First Part has the answers! Check out the Website for the
Legalese Hall of Shame; a glossary of legal words linked to Adam Freedman's
columns; tips on writing legal documents in plain English; and more!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More on the Second Amendment Comma War

As we reported recently (see "Holster that Comma," below), there's a comma war brewing as the Supreme Court gears up to hear its first Second Amendment case in nearly 70 years.

In today's New York Times, yours truly weighs in on the punctuation and grammar of the most tortured sentence in the Bill of Rights. Take a look - if you like the article, please email it on to a friend! (At the time of posting, the column is #4 in the "most emailed" category at NYT).

Word of the Week

In rem

Latin (literally, "directed at the thing"). The phrase describes the fundamental character of a legal proceeding as focused on a particular piece of property rather than a person. In an "in rem action" the plaintiff generally seeks judgment declaring the status or disposition of certain property. In rem actions are often brought by the government, and you can always spot one from the case name; for example: United States v. Ten Bottles of Scotch Whisky, 48 F.(2d) 545 (C. C. A. 2d. 1931). But be careful: sometimes the property sues back, as in Three Half-Pipes of Brandy vs. United States (1858).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Word of the Week


Although it sounds like an impromptu song, chance-medley is an archaic term from criminal law that refers to a killing during a sudden fight. When the killing is not judged to be in self-defense, then the crime was known as manslaughter by chance-medley. Originally, the term applied to the the fight itself -- it is meant to convey the sense of a sudden and unexpected brawl. (See Random House Webster's Dictionary of the Law).

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Word of the Week


Verb: To put or send into circulation a forged document or instrument. Federal criminal law uses the formulation "utters [or] publishes" in defining various counterfeiting and forgery offenses. The same language can be found in state statutes, such as Section 248a of the Michigan Penal Code: "A person who utters and publishes as true any false, forged, altered, or counterfeit financial transaction device, as defined in section 157m, with the intent to injure or defraud any person is guilty of a felony."

Fighting Legalese in Malaysia

The English-language paper of Malaysia, The Star, recently featured a column by a British Council member lamenting the use of legalese in his tenancy agreement. "Apparently, I was 'desirous of tenanting said premises' – or something like that," wrote the author, Tom Hayton.

Hayton argues for greater clarity in legal writing -- and he rails against the rise of gobbledygook, citing (drumroll, please), our very own Legalese Hall of Shame. Thanks Tom!

That's Dactylic Hexameter, Partner

Who knew that along the shores of the Brazos, the murmur of the Muse is sweet? At least for lawyers, that is. Texas Lawyer reports that a reading by lawyer-poets gathered a crowd of 30 or so listeners at a Houston Borders. One of the poets, former litigator Ken Jones, read an Elizabethan sonnet about lawyer/yuppie ennui inspired by a Brooks Brothers "Half-Off" sale. "Ultimately as attorneys we are writers," said Jones. "It's also a love of words, of language."

Another participant at the reading was University of Houston law professor David Crump, who I take to task in my book for opposing some "plain English" reforms. Turns out that Crump is himself a master of the sonnet; having published a book of 52 (one per week). Hats off to Professor Crump.

Watch this space -- POFP will be publishing an article about the use of poetry in judicial opinions soon!