Legal Writing and Credibility

A federal judge in Florida recently corrected dozens of errors in a routine motion. Many of the errors involved typos, but he also make corrections on errors that even excellent writers routinely make. Four things that didn't impress the judge were:

  • Faulty capitalization of Order and Motion. The rule is to use lowercase when these words are used generically, and only capitalize them when they refer to a specific document.
  • Faulty capitalization of Plaintiff, Defendant, and Court. The rule is to capitalize plaintiff and defendant when they are used as the names of the parties. And capitalize court when referring to the court in which the case is pending or the Supreme Court.
  • Faulty punctuation of quoted material. Motions and briefs filed in American courts should follow the American rule: punctuation goes inside the quotes unless it is a question mark or exclamation point that is not part of the quote.
  • Faulty use of ordinals. Spell out the ordinals of the courts, i.e., Fifth Court of Appeals. 5th belongs just in the case cites.

The judge's work provides excellent insight as to what kind of impressions ordinary motions make on the ones deciding your client's case.

Judge's Marked-Up Motion

Hat tip to Ross Guberman of Legal Writing Pro.