Bob Hurt Rant Against Sloppy Legal Writing

Dear Legal Writer:

I take exception to the typos and grammatical errors, especially in legal writing. They confuse me and make the documents hard to read. And that means they probably bother the judge, just another way of prejudicing him against the Defendant.

Look at the paragraph fragment below and tell me how anyone knows exactly what it means. Do you mean to say that because the IRC requires withholding agents (WA) to withhold only for NRA and FC, and the WA sign the 1042 under PoP, and the WA know the Defendant is NOT an NRA or FC, then the WA commit perjury in signing it? Who are the correct parties? Did you mean “parties that withhold” instead of “parties that withholding?” Did you mean that subtitle A does not apply to NRA or FC, or does not apply to the Defendant?

“[Lawyer] refused to explain the unambiguous Statutes of the United States codified in Title 26 including “gross income” in § 61, “adjusted gross income” in § 62, “taxable income” in § 63, “withholding agent” in 7701(a)(16), “taxable year” in § 7701(a)(23), “taxable year” and “taxable income” required for the “tax tables” for individuals computation in § 3 and if people act as “withholding agents”, then according to Form 1042, they must file knowing full well that the parties that withholding money from in Subtitle A and forwarding it under § 7701(a)16) are not the correct parties identified in Subtitle A.”

You see, ambiguous paragraphs like this might try hard to make a great point, but they lose the point because of bad grammar and unclear expression.

I saw several confusing expressions and wrong word choices in such paragraphs in the associated pleading. And I cannot think of a time when crystal clarity and accuracy have greater importance than when lack of clarity or accuracy might result in alienating a judge against the Defendant.

Have you ever considered employing an editorial service? I know someone who might do the service for you. You write it, get the editor to massage it into clear, correct English, and THEN you send it to the Defendant for filing.

I encourage you to encourage authors to proofread, spell check, and eliminate passive voice from their legal writing, and to use to-be verbs only when expressing identity. The writing will then torture fewer readers with its ambiguity. It will also let them know that the writer deserved his high school diploma.

Try not to get mad at me for criticizing your legal writing. I consider it atrocious, not because you make bad points, but because you make so many sentence structure, grammar, and word form errors, like writing “the parties that withholding money from in Subtitle A.”

It seems evident that you meant “the parties that are withholding money from in Subtitle A.” Even that would misuse the word “are” because you need no helping to-be verb, and should omit it altogether.

For example, you should have written “the withholding agent imposters withhold Subtitle A money…” That would have made clear the nature of the “parties” who posed as a withholding agent. It still would not have explained what you meant by “money from in Subtitle A.” You failed to make that point or explain its significance in the paragraph.

Your writing needs to express your points UNMISTAKABLY, without allowing the reader to feel confused or unable to learn what you mean.

My Rules: Writing for Clarity

If I crafted such legal papers, I would do the following:

  1. Write ONLY in active voice.
  2. Eliminate non-identity to-be verbs (be, being (gerund), am, is, are, was, were).
  3. Order the phrases and words in every sentence like this:
  1. Subject
  2. Verb
  3. Object
  4. Amplifying phrases.

Limit sentences to 15 or 20 words.

Write numbered items in sequences of more than two items, and sometimes with two, to make a point.

Limit paragraphs to thought modules of three or fewer sentences, and absolute no more than five sentences.

Check spelling.

Go back and read sentences for clarity and for obedience to the above rules, and correct them accordingly. I would do all of that because:

  • I don’t want my writing to make readers falter and wonder what I meant;
  • I want the reader to focus on my arguments and meanings, not my lack of literacy;
  • I don’t want the reader, particularly the judge, to doubt my arguments because he sees my sloppy writing as an indication of
  • irrational thinking,
  • sloppy or deficient legal research,
  • disrespect for the reader in general and the judge in particular;

I don’t want others in the “movement” to see me as an arrogant bumpkin who disrespects the one thing most attorneys learn in college and law school – how to write coherent thoughts accurately, concisely, and in proper English. Sloppy writing has an even worse effect on the judge than showing up in court ungroomed and in filthy, smelly attire. Why? Because it undoes all of your clients’ good grooming and manners. They can appear dressed to the nines, and speak with dignity and respect, only to have the judge see the legal writing as hurried, sloppy, careless, and disrespectful. And it gives pro se litigants a worse reputation.

I have told many lawyers and legal writers to omit passive voice and non-identity to-be verbs. They ignore me, of course, partly out of habit, but also out of ignorance. They don’t seem willing to admit that their writing could have far greater verve and accuracy, and come more alive in active voice. You can write better than they by heeding my counsel in this matter.

Maybe this will make my point better:

Attention to the points above MUST BE PAID, but only if LIFE IN YOUR WRITING IS WANTED.

(try to rewrite that sentence according to my rules and see how you like it)

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Author: bobhurt

See http://bobhurt.com

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