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, March 15, 2008

Word of the Week


Okay, not exactly a legal word but very close. It's what they call a "portmanteau" word, that is a merger of two existing words -- like, say, advertorial. It's a blend of Elliot Spitzer and schadenfreude, the splendid German word meaning "malicious enjoyment in the misfortune of others." Spitzerfreude (sometimes spelled Spitzenfreude) is defined as "malicious enjoyment in the misfortune of Client 9."

Meanwhile, as speculation mounts that Spitzer might plead to a Mann Act violation, it's worth noting that the original name of the statute was the "Mann White Slave Trade Traffic Act" -- "white slavery" being a nineteenth century term for the act of forcing young women in prostitution.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Word of the Week

Goods and Chattels

It's one of those phrases with legal overtones but no clear definition. Traditionally, the phrase is taken to refer to every type of personal property except a freehold title. It can even include interests in land, such a lease.

"Good" is an English word, related to the Old Norse gothr. "Chattel" comes from the Old French chatel, and ultimately from the Latin catalla, which literally means cattle. Somehow, the French came to use "cattle" to refer to any moveable good; which is an odd usage, given that cattle are notoriously difficult to move. Medieval "law French" pleadings from England refer to "biens et chateaux." As so often happened with these old expressions, English lawyers decided to translate half of the phrase (thus changing biens to good), but leaving the other half foreign.

Shakespeare, who as I have commented elsewhere, knew his law, has the character Petruchio (Taming of the Shrew) exclaim: "I will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house."

Patently Obvious

Necessity is the mother of invention. And invention, it turns out, is the mother of litigation.

A Supreme Court ruling last Spring sent shockwaves through the already-litigious world of intellectual property by making it easier to challenge the validity of a patent. Patent reform legislation currently making its way through Congress threatens to further upset the apple cart. Much of the controversy turns on the definition of a single word, and it’s obvious. That is, the word in question is “obvious.”

Click here to read the entire column.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Word of the Week

Fighting Words Doctrine

The First Amendment doctrine that holds that certain utterances are not constitutionally protected as free speech if they are "inherently likely to provoke a violent response from the audience" (Black's). Besides which, it's horrible manners.

SEC Chairman: Cut the Gobbledygook!

In testimony last week before the House Small Business Committee, Christopher Cox, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, explained how cutting out legalese from government documents and required disclosures is good for business. Chairman Cox discussed the SEC's recent proposal for plain English summary prospectuses for mutual funds. He also supported a bill now before Congress, the "Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2007," which would require the use of plain language in any new or revised document issued by a federal agency.

Denounce and Reject

For those who were intrigued -- but perhaps confused -- by last Tuesday's linguistic squabble between Hillary and Barack over the differences between "denouncing" and "rejecting" Louis Farrakhan, POFP has kindly deconstructed the whole thing. See my piece in today's New York Times for the real story!