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Legal Research & Writing LAW-215
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Legal Research & Writing LAW-215

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  1. Legal Research & WritingLAW-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 toeffectively communicate. • Flaws in mechanics distract the reader from the message, and cause the reader to: • Doubt the writer’s abilities • Reflect on the writer’s carelessness

  3. Grammar

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

  5. Subject-Verb Agreement

  6. Subject-Verb Agreement 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. Fragments • 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.

  10. Fragments • 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.

  11. Fragments - Exceptions • 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 . . .

  12. Fragments - Exceptions • Exclamations (which rarely appear in legal writing!). • 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.

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

  14. Modifiers

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

  16. Modifiers • Example: “Only”

  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. Modifiers • 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.

  19. Modifiers • 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.

  20. Modifiers • 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.

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

  24. Pronouns • 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.

  25. Pronouns • 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.

  26. Pronouns • 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.

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

  28. Pronouns • 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.

  29. Pronouns • 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.

  30. Pronouns • 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.

  31. Pronouns • Rule: Adjectives cannot be antecedents. • Example 1: the Rheams building adjectivenoun • 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.

  32. Pronouns • Example 2: the defendant’s alibi 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.

  33. Pronouns • 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.

  34. Spelling

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

  36. Punctuation

  37. Commas Apostrophes Colons Semicolons Quotation marks Parentheses Brackets Dashes Exclamation marks Hyphens Slashes or virgules Punctuation • 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. • 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. • 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. • 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. • 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). • 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. • 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). • 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. • 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. • 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. • 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). • 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). • 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."