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Q UINCY COLLEGE Paralegal Studies Program Paralegal Studies Program Legal Research & Writing LAW-215 Legal Writing Skills Part One: The Basics.

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Presentation on theme: "Q UINCY COLLEGE Paralegal Studies Program Paralegal Studies Program Legal Research & Writing LAW-215 Legal Writing Skills Part One: The Basics."— Presentation transcript:

1 Q UINCY COLLEGE Paralegal Studies Program Paralegal Studies Program Legal Research & Writing LAW-215 Legal Writing Skills Part One: The Basics

2 Why the Mechanics of Writing Are Important The mechanics of writing (i.e., grammar, spelling and punctuation) must be correct to effectively communicate. The mechanics of writing (i.e., grammar, spelling and punctuation) must be correct to effectively communicate. Flaws in mechanics distract the reader from the message, and cause the reader to: Flaws in mechanics distract the reader from the message, and cause the reader to: Doubt the writer’s abilities Doubt the writer’s abilities Reflect on the writer’s carelessness Reflect on the writer’s carelessness

3 Grammar

4 Grammar Do’s and Don’ts Make sure you check for the following: Make sure you check for the following:  Parallel construction  Modifiers  Split infinitives  Dangling participles  Correct use of pronouns  Subject-verb agreement  Correct verb tense  Superfluous verbs  Sentence fragments  Run-on sentences

5 Subject-Verb Agreement

6 Two years ago, I couldn’t even spell “paralegal” – now I are one!!! Two years ago, I couldn’t even spell “paralegal” – now I are one!!!

7 Sentence Fragments

8 Fragments  What are fragments?  DEFINITION:  Incomplete sentences (missing subject or main verb, or subordinate clause posing as a sentence)  A fragment is one of the most egregious errors a writer can make.

9  Main Verb Missing  Example:  Therefore, Winfield may be able to get title to the entire triangle, not just the part upon which the bathhouse is built. Provided, of course, that all the elements of adverse possession are proved in Winfield’s favor.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  Therefore, Winfield may be able to get title to the entire triangle, not just the part upon which the bathhouse is built - provided, of course, that all the elements of adverse possession are proved in Winfield’s favor. Fragments

10  Subordinate clauses trying to pose as complete sentences  Subordinate clause = main clause preceded by a word like: although, because, if, until, when, etc.  Example:  Winfield said Mann never used the triangle. Although she had permission to do so.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  Winfield said Mann never used the triangle, although she had permission to do so. Fragments

11 1. Issue statements beginning with “Whether.” Example: Whether, under Washington tort law, Smith can recover punitive damages Answers to questions. Example: Probably not. In Washington, there is a strong policy against awarding punitive damages... Fragments - Exceptions

12 3. Exclamations (which rarely appear in legal writing!). 4. For stylistic effect (by sophisticated writers). Example: It may have been unavoidable, but it still took courage. More courage than most of us would have had. Fragments - Exceptions

13 5. Transitions (--also risky for inexperienced writers). Example: “First, the truth.” Fragments - Exceptions

14 Modifiers

15  Rule: Keep modifiers close to the word or words they modify.  Frequent offenders:  Not  Only  Scarcely  Simply  Exactly  Hardly  Just  Merely  Nearly  Almost  Also  Even  Ever Modifiers

16 Statement Implied Meaning Only the defendant thought that the car was rented. (No one but the defendant thought that.) The defendant only thought that the car was rented. (He did not know for sure.) The defendant thought only that the car was rented. (He thought that and nothing else.) The defendant thought that the only car was rented. (Only one car was available, and it was rented.) The defendant thought that the car was only rented. (He did not think it was leased or sold.)  Example: “Only” Modifiers

17 Modifiers  Example:  In Smith v. Jones, using land thirteen feet west of their boundary, a patio was built by the claimants.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  In Smith v.Jones, using land thirteen feet west of their boundary, the claimants built a patio.

18  Rule: Do not leave your modifier “dangling”- i.e., without a noun in the sentence to modify.  Example:  Looking at Winfield’s acts alone, it would seem that his claim to the triangle was hostile.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  Looking at Winfield’s acts alone, the court may find that his claim to the triangle was hostile. Modifiers

19  Rule: Do not place your modifier where it would appear to modify both the term that precedes it and the term that follows it.  Example:  Since the bathhouse’s completion, the Winfields have used it and the surrounding land both during the summer and winter. Modifiers

20  POSSIBLE REVISIONS:  Since the bathhouse’s completion, the Winfields have used both it and the surrounding land during the summer and winter.  Since the bathhouse’s completion, the Winfields have used it and the surrounding land during both the summer and winter. Modifiers

21 Pronouns

22 Pronouns  Rule: Indefinite pronouns take singular verbs.  Definition: Indefinite pronouns do not refer to any definite person or thing, or they do not specify definite limits.  Example:  Everyone who takes the stand swears to tell the truth.

23  All  Any  Anyone  Anybody  Each  Either  Examples of indefinite pronouns:  Nobody  None  Somebody  Someone  Something  Everybody  Everyone  Everything  Neither  No one Pronouns

24  Exception: “None,” “all,” “most,” “some,” “any,” and “half” may take either a singular or a plural verb depending on the noun to which they refer.  Examples:  All of the jewelry was recovered.  All of the rings were recovered. Pronouns

25  Rule: When an indefinite pronoun is the antecedent, use the the singular pronoun.  Example:  Anyone would have noticed that his or her license plate was removed. Pronouns

26  Rule: Collective noun antecedents take a singular pronoun when you refer to group as a unit and a plural pronoun when you refer to the individual members of the group.  Example:  The jury must not be mislead about Jason Richardson’s credibility when it is considering his testimony. Pronouns

27  jury  committee  court  majority  board  team  family  audience  crowd  Examples of collective nouns: Pronouns

28  Rule: Each pronoun should clearly refer back to its antecedent.  Example:  Mann’s son now has title to her lot; he has informed Winfield that he must remove the bathhouse.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  Mann’s son now has title to her lot; he has informed Winfield that Winfield must remove the bathhouse. Pronouns

29  Another Example:  Officer Robert O’Malley, who arrested Howard Davis, said that he was drunk at the time.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  Officer Robert O’Malley, who arrested Howard Davis, said that Davis was drunk at the time. Pronouns

30  MORE POSSIBLE REVISIONS:  Howard Davis was drunk when he was arrested by Officer O’Malley.  Officer O’Malley was drunk when he arrested Howard Davis.  According to the arresting officer, Robert O’Malley, Howard Davis was drunk at the time of the arrest. Pronouns

31  Rule: Adjectives cannot be antecedents.  Example 1: the Rheams building the Rheams building adjective noun adjective noun  The Rheams building has undergone as many facelifts as he has.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  The Rheams building has undergone as many facelifts as Rheams himself has. Pronouns

32  Example 2: the defendant’s alibi adjective noun adjective noun  After hearing the defendant’s alibi, the jurors seemed to change their opinion of him.  POSSIBLE REVISION:  The jurors seemed to change their opinion of the defendant after they heard his alibi. Pronouns

33  More Examples:  Ungrammatical  Somebody must have used their phone to call the police.  Masculine pronoun (also incorrect)  Somebody must have used his phone to call the police.  Corrected  Somebody must have used his or her phone to call the police. OR  Somebody must have used the phone to call the police. Pronouns

34 Spelling

35 Tips to Help Become a Better Speller Learn some rules Learn some rules Use a dictionary Use a dictionary Don’t over-rely on a spell checker Don’t over-rely on a spell checker Use mnemonic devices to help you remember words Use mnemonic devices to help you remember words Pronounce your words carefully Pronounce your words carefully Rewrite your misspellings correctly, several times Rewrite your misspellings correctly, several times Proofread carefully Proofread carefully

36 Punctuation

37 Punctuation Commas Commas Apostrophes Apostrophes Colons Colons Semicolons Semicolons Quotation marks Quotation marks Parentheses Parentheses Brackets Dashes Exclamation marks Hyphens Slashes or virgules Make sure you know the rules for using the following: Make sure you know the rules for using the following:

38 Commas

39 Commas Rule: Use a comma before a conjunction joining two main clauses. Rule: Use a comma before a conjunction joining two main clauses. Example: Example: Winfield would have preferred his lot squared up, but he never discussed this preference with Mrs. Mann.

40 Commas Exception: When the main clauses are short and closely related, the comma before the coordinating conjunction may be omitted. Exception: When the main clauses are short and closely related, the comma before the coordinating conjunction may be omitted. Example: Example: The prosecutor spoke and the jury listened.

41 Commas Rule: Use a comma to set off long introductory phrases or clauses from the main clause. Rule: Use a comma to set off long introductory phrases or clauses from the main clause. Example: Example: Since the bathhouse’s completion in 1968, the Winfield family has used it and the surrounding land during both the summer and winters.

42 Commas Rule: Use a comma to prevent possible misreading. Rule: Use a comma to prevent possible misreading. Example: Example:Confusing People who can usually hire their own lawyer. Revised People who can, usually hire their own lawyer.

43 Commas Rule: Set off nonrestrictive appositives with comma(s). Rule: Set off nonrestrictive appositives with comma(s). Example: Example: In 1962, Mr. Winfield, our client, bought a waterfront plot on Yale Lake from Mrs. Marm, who owned and lived on the contiguous lot.

44 Commas Rule: Use a comma(s) to set off nonrestrictive phrases or clauses. Rule: Use a comma(s) to set off nonrestrictive phrases or clauses. Example: Example: In 1962, Mr. Winfield, our client, bought a waterfront plot on Yale Lake from Mrs. Mann, who owned and lived on the contiguous lot.

45 Commas Rule: Set off nonrestrictive participial phrases or clauses with comma(s). Rule: Set off nonrestrictive participial phrases or clauses with comma(s). Example: Example: Finding that the seizure fell under the plain view doctrine, the trial court denied the motion.

46 Commas Rule: Use comma(s) to set off transitional or interrupting words or phrases. Rule: Use comma(s) to set off transitional or interrupting words or phrases. Example: Example: The elements of open and notorious, actual, uninterrupted, and exclusive possession, however, can be proved by evidence of acts alone.

47 Commas Rule: Use of comma(s) with quotation marks. Rule: Use of comma(s) with quotation marks. Example: Example: The court gave title to the claimants and stated, “The presumption is that if the adverse possession is open and notorious, the owner of the title will know it and... no further proof as to the notice is required.”

48 Commas Rule: Use comma(s) to set off phrases of contrast. Rule: Use comma(s) to set off phrases of contrast. Example: Example: Therefore, Winfield may be able to get title to the entire triangle, not just the part on which the bathhouse is built.

49 Commas Rule: Use commas between items in a series (serial commas). Rule: Use commas between items in a series (serial commas). Example: Example: Before sale, Mrs. Marm’s land formed a perfect rectangle: 800 feet across the water along the length, and 200 feet down the sides.

50 Commas Rule: Use commas between items in a series (serial commas). Rule: Use commas between items in a series (serial commas). Another Example: Another Example: A newspaper did a survey to determine who our "modern heroes" were. They listed the first, second, and third place winners, and then said: "In fourth place were Persian Gulf War veterans, Eric and Julia Roberts."

51 Commas Rule: Use a comma between coordinate adjectives not joined by a conjunction. Rule: Use a comma between coordinate adjectives not joined by a conjunction. Example: Example: The Winfields and Mrs. Mann maintained a warm, friendly relationship until last year when Marm moved to a nursing home.

52 Apostrophes

53 Apostrophes Rule: Use “ ’s ” to form the possessive of singular or plural nouns or indefinite pronouns that do not end in “-s”. Rule: Use “ ’s ” to form the possessive of singular or plural nouns or indefinite pronouns that do not end in “-s”. Examples: Examples: defendant’s alibi defendant’s alibi expert’s testimony expert’s testimony everyone’s concern everyone’s concern family's home family's home

54 Rule: Use “ ’s ” to form the possessive of singular nouns ending in “-s” as long as the resulting word is not difficult to pronounce. Rule: Use “ ’s ” to form the possessive of singular nouns ending in “-s” as long as the resulting word is not difficult to pronounce. Examples: Examples: James’s book James’s book Congress’s rule Congress’s rule witness’s testimony witness’s testimony business’s location business’s location Apostrophes

55 HOWEVER, you should drop the final “s” if the resulting series of words is difficult to pronounce. HOWEVER, you should drop the final “s” if the resulting series of words is difficult to pronounce. Examples: Examples: business’ sales business’ sales witness’ signatures witness’ signatures Apostrophes

56 Rule: Use only an apostrophe to form the possessive of plural nouns ending in “-s”. Rule: Use only an apostrophe to form the possessive of plural nouns ending in “-s”. Examples: Examples: workers’ rights workers’ rights framers’ intent framers’ intent the Smiths’ house the Smiths’ house Apostrophes

57 Rule: Use “ ’s ” after the last word to form the possessive of a compound word or word group. Rule: Use “ ’s ” after the last word to form the possessive of a compound word or word group. Examples: Examples: mother-in-law’s statement mother-in-law’s statement attorney general’s office attorney general’s office Apostrophes

58 Rule: To show joint possession, use “ ’s ” only after the last noun in a group of two or more nouns; to show individual possession, use “’s” after each of the nouns in a group of two or more nouns. Rule: To show joint possession, use “ ’s ” only after the last noun in a group of two or more nouns; to show individual possession, use “’s” after each of the nouns in a group of two or more nouns. Examples: Examples: John and Mary's stocks John and Mary's stocks John’s and Mary’s stocks John’s and Mary’s stocks Apostrophes

59 Rule: To form the possessive of personal pronouns, do NOT use an apostrophe. Rule: To form the possessive of personal pronouns, do NOT use an apostrophe. Examples: Examples: hers hers its its theirs theirs yours yours Apostrophes

60 Rule: To form contractions, use the apostrophe to substitute for one or more omitted letters or numbers. Rule: To form contractions, use the apostrophe to substitute for one or more omitted letters or numbers. Examples: Examples: it’s = it is it’s = it is they’re = they are they’re = they are who’s = who is who’s = who is class of ‘08 = class of 2008 class of ‘08 = class of 2008 NOTE: Do not use contractions in legal writing!!! NOTE: Do not use contractions in legal writing!!! Apostrophes

61 Rule: To form the plural of numbers, letters or words referred to as words, add “ ’s ”. Rule: To form the plural of numbers, letters or words referred to as words, add “ ’s ”. Examples: Examples: seven 0’s seven 0’s 1950’s 1950’s two Boeing 767’s two Boeing 767’s replace all the and’s replace all the and’s cross your t’s cross your t’s Apostrophes

62 Legal Writing Skills End of Part One


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