Wednesday, September 01, 2010

"How to Lose a Case in 100 Pages or More"

That's the subtitle of the article "Writing Bad Briefs," a how-(not-)to by NY judge Gerald Lebovits. The endnote to his article indicates that the same rhetorical device has been used many times before, but Judge Lebovits applies it with zest:
The more typefaces in your brief, the more you’ll distract the judge from finding any good arguments your client might have. You’re closer to losing than you think if your brief looks like a ransom note. Challenge yourself to write each paragraph in a different typeface. If you really want to signal that you and your brief are losers, write each sentence in a different typeface: one in Times New Roman, another in Courier, and a third in Garamond. When neon lights fail, bold, underline, and italicize, preferably all at once, and all in quotation marks. How else are you going to emphasize your lack of forthcoming content, show sarcasm, and prove your paranoia? Then uppercase as many words as you can. Capitalizing excessively makes your writing memorable, albeit unreadable.
I will have to plagiarize all this for a CLE one day.

H/t Max Kennerly.


  1. I get term papers like that, only the font changes are due to the different online sources that were "incorporated" into the final product.

  2. Computers and printers were less sophisticated in my day, so there were less chances for students to indict themselves.

    Tho I cherish the memory of the basketball player whose sentences had mysterious numerals right after the periods ... until I realized she was copying the footnotes, not knowing just what they were, and not putting them in superscript.

    I will have to post on The Funniest Punctuation Error Ever sometime.

  3. FEWER! FEWER chances! My god, where's the "edit" button on this thing!

    ... This from someone who quit reading a new translation of Goncharov's Oblomov after four pages, because the translator thought "alright" to be a perfectly good word. Stephen Pearl, folks. I've got the Marion Schwarz version on order.

  4. Yeah, I'm not sure why "alright" causes me so much grief, either, but it does! My partner has a degree in English, and she detests my persistent use of "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. I guess everyone has their own bête noir.

  5. Especially when you're a TRANSLATOR whom I'm trusting to have a good grasp of TWO languages.

    I'm also trying to hold the line on "none" as singular pronoun and -- this was really bizarre to my students -- "who" rather than "that" as relative pronoun referring to persons: "the teacher *who* pissed me off most was Mr. Anderson."

    Actually, I was wondering yesterday if that's even a real rule -- I need to check Fowler's.

  6. I know it's a rule in French (qui vs. que), but I'm not sure about English. It must be tough being a translator--maybe we should give Mr. Pearl a break.

    No, on second thought, "alright" is still unforgivable.

  7. It's a good thing to shoot a translator now and then, pour encourager les autres.