July 2014


Susie Salmon, UA Law School

Susie Salmon, UA Law School

Color me nostalgic, but this week I’m offering a few great pieces of content from the departing issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine—in case you missed it.

Today. I point you to our new-ish column on legal writing. Wisely enough, that column is written by an expert in the subject, a legal writing professor at the UA Law School, Susie Salmon.

I have been impressed by Susie’s work from the first time I spotted it. Concise, witty, salted with just enough pop-culture and other references to keep us coming back for more.

This was not the legal writing approach I got in law school, I can tell you that.

(Ironically, Susie and I attended the same law school. I have never asked her about her experience at UC-Hastings as a writing student. Perhaps it was a stellar one; someone had to get the good section.)

Susie’s column in the current issue is spot-on as usual. She takes something you think you can live without knowing—in the June issue it’s the comma spliceand demonstrates that no, no you cannot.

Like all great writing teachers (and writers), Susie shows; she does not just tell.

And sometimes, she’ll tell off—but with courtesy.

When I received her April column, for example, I laughed out loud. For there, right in her lede (don’t know what that is? She explains it here), Susie gently pointed out a point of disagreement between us. You may chuckle (or chortle, if you’re legal-word pundit Bryan Garner), but debates over the Oxford comma are serious business.

Here is how she handled it. (And a sample of her column lede is below.)

Commas may look innocent, but can they be unnecessary? (Sorry, Oxford.)

Commas may look innocent, but can they be unnecessary? (Sorry, Oxford.)

Well, unlike the musings of my own law school professor, I take to heart Susie’s suggestions. And so I am pleased to tell you that since reading her gentle remonstrance, I have (deep breath) … taken a less hardline view that the Oxford comma is a ridiculous relic of a stodgy past.

Yes, I still strive to follow the AP Stylebook, our particular bible. And yes, my skin does break out in a rash when I see that damned O.C. wheel around the corner of a paragraph, grinning the power-drunk grin of a self-satisfied colonial monoglot.

But now, at least, I do not obliterate it with relish, striking it out with a violent Sharpie slash. Instead, I read the sentence multiple times, slowly, over Port, as I imagine baffled O.C. lovers do, considering every possible way a comma’s omission may lead to confusion or a monarchy’s collapse. And then, every once in a while, I allow the comma to remain.

See. I can learn.

Well, so can you. So enjoy Susie’s column now and in the future. But go easy on adding the commas, would you?

 

 

Maricopa County Courthouse 1800sThis week, I’m sharing some Arizona Attorney content that may have slipped by you unnoticed. As we are about to launch the September issue, I wanted to be sure you saw a few items that I think are significant. (Yesterday, I mentioned a data list that may be of great help to attorneys wondering what’s on the minds of jurors.)

My second mention of the week for magazine content is a column that honors a special bar anniversary—not of the State Bar, but of the Maricopa County Bar Association.

Stan Watts is not only a lawyer but also a historian. And our back-page story by Stan is the result of a collaboration between Maricopa County Bar Association Executive Director Allen Kimbrough, Stan and me.

When I heard from Allen about the MCBA’s 100-year anniversary, I agreed it would be ideal for us at the State Bar to recognize the achievement. But how?

Fortunately, Allen suggested Stan could draft something evocative, as he has so many times in the past. And that he did, well in advance of the County Bar’s September 20 Centennial event.

You can read Stan’s great piece here. And then head over the MCBA to secure a seat at their centennial banquet.

(Of course, as we hurried toward the magazine deadline, I managed to miss the flawed headline touting the bar’s “decade of service.” I think readers understood that we meant a century. Here’s hoping the blog title above will make up for that.)

Tomorrow, on the final day of July, I take a grammatical turn in magazine content. I hope you join me.

Arizona civil verdicts 2013 gavel

As July rushes headlong to a close, I offer suggestions for two pieces from the June Arizona Attorney Magazine, before it recedes into memory.

The first is related to a decade-long favorite feature article: our annual roundup of the previous year’s largest civil verdicts, written by attorney Kelly MacHenry.

This year’s well-written and -researched story is here. But that’s just part of Kelly’s accomplishment.

For this, our anniversary year, Kelly suggested we also include a roster of the top verdicts of the past decade.

When an author offers a great idea along with the labor and smarts to get the job done, there’s really only one thing an editor should say: “Yes, thank you!”

So enjoy Kelly’s story about 2013 verdicts. But rip out and save her list of the top 100 verdicts of the past decade, which begins here.

Tomorrow, I share a story and news of an upcoming event that should be on your calendar.

LSC_LogoLast Friday, a significant anniversary passed, one that should be marked by anyone concerned about equal access to justice.

On July 25, the Legal Services Corporation noted that it had been established 40 years ago. As it describes itself, it is the single largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States.

“LSC provides federal funds through competitive grants to 134 independent nonprofit organizations with nearly 800 offices in every state, the District of Columbia and the territories of the United States. LSC is headed by an 11-member Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Board is bipartisan: no more than six members may be of the same political party.”

“Every day across America, victims of domestic violence seeking protection, veterans trying to avoid homelessness, and consumers facing wrongful evictions or foreclosures are forced to navigate the legal system alone because they can’t afford a lawyer,” LSC President James J. Sandman said. “LSC’s funding of high-quality legal services for low-income people helps assure fairness in our legal system, and it’s never been more needed, or more important, than it is today.”

Here is an infographic detailing some of the need met by the LSC. You can read important facts and statistics about the LSC here.

LSC Legal Services Corporation logo

(click to enlarge)

Its celebration will be noted in a three-day event in Washington, DC.

 

 

Wordcrimes 1 Weird Al Yankovic video

Nothing lightens a busy week’s load like a grammar lesson.

Hmmm, scratch that. Instead:

Nothing lightens a busy week’s load like “Weird Al” Yankovic.

That’s more like it.

OK, even if you’re not a “Weird Al” fan, you may enjoy his video take on the importance of grammar (didn’t see that coming, did you?)

(And before I forget to ask, how many decades do we have to see “Weird Al” Yankovic in this country before we’re able to simply drop the apostrophes? Odd, don’t you think? Probably a legal name, like somewhere in performance history, there’s already an Equity actor named Weird Al, no apostrophe. Oh well, back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Here, in one compact video, Al points out a wide variety of the grammatical missteps folks make every day.

Hat tip to Fennemore Craig attorney Chad Mead for alerting me to “Weird Al’s” great public service.

Have a terrific—and wordcrime-free—weekend.

Wordcrimes 2 Weird Al Yankovic video

How serious do Americans think our incarceration crisis is? Their word choice provides a clue.

How serious do Americans think our incarceration crisis is? Their word choice provides a clue.

It may be wonkish and nerdy to admit, but I enjoy the etymological side of public policy quite a bit.

Wait, that sentence itself is pretty incomprehensible. So let me start again.

We may all know “mass incarceration” when we see it (especially in the United States). But where did the term come from? Who used it first? And is it a neutral phrase, or laden with ideological baggage?

That is the conceptual adventure a reader embarks on when they begin a recent article on the Brennan Center website titled “Just Facts: Quantifying the Incarceration Conversation.

In the article, Oliver Roeder explains the roots of the term mass incarceration. That alone makes the article worth your time.

But of special interest is the kind of research that a digitized knowledge base allows us. The existence of digitized articles and scholarship permits talented people like Roeder to track trends in word use. Because of that, he’s able to explain, among other things, how use of the phrase ramped up, and to compare it to the increasing size of our prison population. Here is an example of one of his tables:

Mass incarceration table Brennan Center

Roeder earned his economics Ph.D. at the University of Texas in Austin. Perhaps not coincidentally, Texas is one of the states trying to make inroads in the mass incarceration challenge.

A few years ago, I wrote a story about the possibility for altered sentencing laws in Arizona. It appeared way back in 2012, when the prospects had brightened and then dimmed.

But if Roeder’s analysis shows anything, it is that the concept of mass incarceration has entered the collective consciousness. Supporters and detractors both understand that they must wrestle with the propriety of a historically large prison population.

So maybe it’s time for an updated look. What do you think?

state bars urge attorneys toward rural law practice

Some of us muse on the pleasures of a rural law practice. And others do something about it.

I have written before (like, here) about efforts to transform underemployed lawyers into busy rural attorneys. Not to romanticize the notion, but there is something fulfilling about a law practice in which you know many residents of your community.

Around the country, many communities suffer the effects of too few attorneys to do the necessary work. And a recent story in Associations Now explored the strategy of two bar associations—in Nebraska and Iowa—that devised strategies to address the challenge.

In Nebraska, the solution is a Rural Practice Initiative. In Iowa, a committee aims to alter the dynamic. And these are just a few of the organized efforts.

Would such efforts bear fruit in Arizona? Evidence suggests our rural areas face similar challenges. Let me know what you think.

Next Page »