Capital letters do not make words more interesting

… nor do they make the writer more interesting.

Over The Years, It’s Become Painfully Clear To Me That Lawyers Like Their Capital Letters. It’s Almost Like They JUST CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES.

Maybe they put themselves in the shoes of the Founding Fathers (founding fathers?), whose Declaration of Independence is a hallmark of random capitalization. (And why is that? Read what this writer Says About That. And Slate covers the topic of capitalization and the Tea Party here.)

Nothing grabs the eye in a declaration of independence like random capitalization.

Nothing grabs the eye in a declaration of independence like random capitalization.

What got me thinking about this topic was Susie Salmon’s January column in Arizona Attorney Magazine. In it, she examines when you need to capitalize, and when you simply Should Not.

At the magazine, we routinely receive People-item press releases that show a trigger finger for capitalization. For example, if your law firm has a practice group called the Environmental Remediation and Asbestos Prevention Practice Group, or a department called the White-Collar Crime and Cybersecurity Department, by all means, have at it with the capitals; that’s the name of the group or department, after all.

But if “Robert ‘Bob’ Scharansky practices in all areas of Civil Litigation, with an emphasis on Environmental Remediation and Asbestos Prevention,” … No. Just no.

And Bob’s firm is not a Full-Service Firm committed to the Best Outcome for the Client.

Nor does Bob practice in Bankruptcy, or Aviation Law, or Employment Law, or even in the Federal Courts. He does not Focus his Practice in Immigration and Criminal Law. No No No. Those are not real things, or at least not things that demand a proper noun.

Embrace the little things in life. And begin with your typing choices. We all would Appreciate It.

capital letters My Magnificence Cannot Be Contained In Mere Lowercase Letters-page0001

I hope this is now Clear to Everyone.

No. Just no. End stop. 2 spaces after a period. make it stop_opt

No. Just no. End stop.

Today I share a tale of periods, questions marks and other punctuation poorly served by those who come after.

If you are tired of the national dialogue about the number of spaces that must follow an end punctuation, I urge you to walk away from today’s Change of Venue Friday post. But I warn you: You may be part of the problem.

Others have spoken far more eloquently than I about the evils inherent in a two-space world. I heartily advocate that you read the essays on the topic by Jennifer Gonzalez and by Farhad Manjoo.

What brought the topic to my front burner was our own writing-columnist, Susie Salmon, penning a piece on the space issue in the March 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Susie’s piece, as always, was well written and in need of zero editing (o’ course). And I was pleased to see she was attacking the scourge afflicting our nation.

Until I got to her second graf. That’s where she reported:

“I remain agnostic … when it comes to what may be the biggest punctuation controversy of the modern era: how many spaces to insert after the punctuation at the end of the sentence. When I present to groups of attorneys, paralegals, or secretaries, I can be certain that at least one person will ask about the issue and that several people in the audience will have strong opinions one way or the other. Because I do not believe that the number of spaces after a period materially affects the accuracy or clarity of my written work, my personal rule is simple: Pick one option and be consistent.”

I must admit: I gulped deeply when I read that. Had my unfettered support for the First Amendment run its course? Could I—would I—strike the offending language and urge a better course of action upon readers?

Well, if you read the published magazine, you’ll see that I did not impose my own position on Susie’s column. But I was nervous: Were we encouraging a randomness among readers that would lead to sentential chaos? (Yes, I made up that word.)

This week, I saw that my worries were well grounded.

Outside the work space of a Bar colleague, a page from the magazine was posted proudly. Always pleased to see magazine content shared and touted, I strolled over to Sarah Fluke’s desk—and promptly gulped again. You can see it posted below (click to biggify.)

March 2015 Legal Word spaces after commas_opt

There, in the upper-right corner, Sarah had encouraged a vote on the 1-space/2-space question. Look at it; I mean, LOOK at it!

March 2015 Legal Word spaces after commas cropped_opt

Friends don’t let friends vote for 2 spaces. Just sayin’.

Dangerous democracy, I thought. But then I spied the emerging ballot results. As of yesterday, I am sorry to report, the votes rested at 9 to 7—in favor of two spaces.

Sarah is a wonderful colleague and is adept at delivering terrific continuing legal education. But here, in black and white, I thought I spied an abdication of her educative goals.

She, of course, is having none of my 21st-century nonsense and believes two spaces are absolutely fine. As I expressed my dismay, the conversation devolved into something along the lines of “Go away.   Move away from my desk.   Stop looking at my things.” (Vast and ridiculous amounts of space added in Sarah’s honor.)

My CLE colleagues may disappoint, and so I turn to you, my progressive readers. Please put aside your past experiences and your memory of my sad but true interactions at the Bar. Read the simple query below, and vote. The future of our nation hangs in the balance.

Have a wonderful—and space-conserving—weekend.

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?