Our Legal Writing Fellows have lots of great suggestions for doing well in law school. Here is the latest:
Ten Last-Minute Tips Before You Hit Submit!
By Reginald Smallwood
Legal Writing Fellow, 2018-2020
1. No contractions: You can't, you won't, and you shouldn't
The legal profession frowns upon contractions. This is a "traditional" rule, rather than a formal Bluebook rule. But it's a rule nonetheless. I know you are closely monitoring your word count, but contractions must be spelled out. Quickly search your document for contractions by searching command+f+' (mac) or ctrl+f+' (pc). All of the apostrophes in your document will be highlighted, making it easier to spot those pesky contractions!
2. Don't forget the "." in Id. or Id.
First, make sure all of your Id. or Id. citations include a period. Second, make sure the period has the same typeface (underline or italics) as the letters. And, yes, to a trained eye, the distinction is very noticeable.
3. Court v. court
The word "court" should only be capitalized when:
1. Referring to the Supreme Court of the United States
Ex: In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court held ...
2. Stating a court's full name
Ex: Maryland's highest court is the Court of Appeals of Maryland.
3. Referring to the court you are appearing before
Ex: For the foregoing reasons, the Court should grant ... or This Court has held ...
4. Appearing before a state court and referring to that state's highest court
Ex: (Maryland case) The Supreme Court of Virginia recently adopted approach A, but the court did not provide much reason. The Court of Appeals of Maryland has not adopted an approach, but the Court rejected approach B.
4. Name Consistency
This rule helps with clarity. You can choose to refer to parties by name or their relationship to a case. Once you have chosen, however, remain consistent throughout your entire paper. If you refer to parties as "plaintiff" or "defendant" in the facts section, do not begin to use their names in the analysis. Similarly, if you are going to use "Ms." or "Mr.," you must remain consistent throughout the entire paper. Do not use "Mr. Doe" on page one, then "Doe" on pages thereafter.
5. Are Plaintiff and Defendant Capitalized as Proper Nouns?
Per the Bluebook, you should only capitalize party designations when referring to parties in the matter that is the subject of your document.
Ex: Plaintiff denies Defendant's baseless allegations of misconduct.
NOT: In Smith, the Plaintiffs alleged that the Defendant acted in bad faith.
6. Is your Id. or Id. citing the correct case?
In the editing phase, it is very common for Id. or Id. citations to get out of order. You should ensure that all of your citations are citing the correct case, but the Id. or Id. citations can easily go overlooked. Also, remember Bluebook Rule 4.1 states Id. or Id. can only be used "when the immediately preceding citation contains only one authority."
7. BEWARE: 5 Common Legal-Writing Snafus
- statute, not statue
- counsel, not council
- judgment, not judgement
- principle, not principal
- moot, not mute
8. Quotation Punctuation: Before or After?
When you are quoting a sentence or phrase that ends the sentence, periods and commas always go before (inside) the last quotation mark, even if it is not the end of the sentence in the original source. Other punctuation marks go after (outside) the quotation unless they appear in the original source.
Quote: I hate her! -- Sarah yelled "I hate her!"
Quote: I hate her -- Did you hear Sarah mumble "I hate her"?
Quote: I hate her -- I think I heard Sarah whisper "I hate her."
Quote: I hate Sarah -- I think I heard someone say, "I hate Sarah," but I am not sure.
9. Its v. It's
In American English, Its is a possessive form of it. "It's" is a contraction of "it is" and should not be used (see tip 1).
The company sold all of its stock in the merger.
I do not think it's it is a good idea to follow after them.
10. Edit a Hard Copy!
Always print and edit a hard copy before submitting. Continue doing this until you don't have any new edits on your hard copy. Read it again. Then once more. Then, and only then, submit!
Click on these links to explore other helpful guides for strengthening your legal writing skills:
10 Quick Tips for Mastering the Bluebook
Basics of Bluebooking -- Maryland
Writing a Winning Writing Sample
Mastering The Bluebook To Become A More Persuasive Writer
Less Is More? How Writing Shorter Sentences Strengthens Legal Writing
A Guide to Beginning Legal Research
Mastering the Umbrella Paragraph
Best Proofreading Practices for the Developing Legal Writer
Time Management Techniques When Writing
Writing Effective Case Comparisons
Don't Crack Up Because of CREAC: Organizing Your Legal Analysis