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!

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Slashdot reports continuing controversy over the confusing language of the "Open Specification Promise" that Microsoft imposes on users of its Open Office XML (OOXML). The OSP, which was originally titled "covenant not to sue" includes a promise by Microsoft not to assert certain patent claims against the user (to figure out which claims, one has to go through a long list of specifications and then relate them back to whatever Microsoft patents exist in the world). In return for Microsoft's "personal promise" not to sue you, you are deemed to make some promises back to Microsoft.

As Slashdot says: Developers wishing to make use of OOXML are unlikely to understand the complex legal language of the Open Specification Promise, and such a document - being neither a release nor a contract - has never been tested in court.

Word of the Week

Ejusdem Generis

Latin for "of the same kind." This is a legal rule for interpreting legal documents and statutes. Such rules are also known as "canons of construction" (see my earlier post on canons of construction in environmental law). The basic idea is that if words belonging to a certain genus are followed by more general words, then the general words are assumed to describe only things belonging to the same genus. So if Mr. Smith's bequeaths "my Ford, Buick and other vehicles" to his nephew, a court would probably conclude that his bequest did not include his private airplane (even though an airplane could be a "vehicle").

Monday, February 18, 2008

Word of the Week

Scotch Verdict

A verdict of "not proven" permitted under Scottish law. It has the legal effect of an acquital (and, indeed, was the traditional manner of acquitting a defendant in Scotland). But in the 18th Century, the "not guilty" verdict gained a foothold in Scotland as a more exculpatory type of acquittal. So the "not proven" verdict now comes across as weaker -- as though the defendant is still suspect. Reportedly, Senator Arlen Specter tried to vote "not proven" on an article of impeachment of Bill Clinton. But that's just trying to vote no without voting no -- a little like smoking without inhaling.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Love and the Legal "Person"

POFP's latest column has caught the notice of the New York Times. The weekend Times featured a round-up of interesting articles in other publications, including the article by yours truly in the February Corporate Counsel magazine.

The article -- "Love, Corporate Style -- takes a Valentine's Day look at the question: Can corporations fall in love? After all, corporations are legal "persons"; they can earn income, own property, and pay taxes. Why can't they fall in love, if the right tender offer comes along.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Genital Integrity"

Got your attention?

"Genital Integrity" may be the new buzz phrase for plaintiffs' lawyers looking to cash in on botched circumcisions. The movement suffered a setback, as New York Lawyer reports, when the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that a mother who didn't like the way her baby's circumcision looked could not sue the hospital for medical malpractice. Sure, and they laughed at tobacco suits at first! The woman's lawyer vowed to battle on in the fight for "genital integrity."

Here at POFP, we're planning a campaign against errant apostrophes -- we call it the battle for "genitive integrity."

Word of the Week

Companion Animal

Under various state animal cruelty statutes, a "companion animal" is an animal that is commonly considered a pet. Under New York law, the crime of aggravated cruelty to animals applies only to abuse of domesticated animals. In the landmark case of People v. Garcia, it was finally settled that pet goldfish do indeed qualify as "companion animals" -- just in case anyone was considering taking away their little plastic castle.


In a cosmic coincidence, the very funny Supreme Court Jester has taken up the goldfish/companion animal theme. He has written a detailed post about the rights of goldfish -- including goldfish divorce law!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Word of the Week

Corruption of Blood

Disqualification from inheriting, retaining, or passing on to one's heirs any rank or title or any interest in land. (See Random House Webster's Dictionary of Law). Corruption was part of the punishment of "Attainder" -- attainder being related to taint, as in "tainting the blood" -- and was reserved for heinous crimes such as treason. Both Attainder and Corruption of Blood are prohibited by the Constitution. So the good news is that you're free to pass on any title to your heirs, but then, the Constitution also prohibits the government from granting titles.

Put that in Plain Tetun!

A big -- but often overlooked -- issue in legal language is "what language is legal?" In East Timor, the news agency AKI reports that the Asia Foundation is working on translating the laws into the local language, Tetun. Until now, most of East Timor's laws were exclusively in Portuguese, a holdover from Portugal's colonial rule, which ended in 1975. That may seem like a small matter, but it has been estimated that only about 5 percent of East Timorese are fluent in Portugese; the other 95 percent have no access to the country's statutes. Until now, that is.

To all those Tetun speakers out there: welcome to the world of legalese!