Appellate judges often say that they want concise briefs. But how to trim without losing meaning? One way is to watch when you say “of,” “in,” and “by.”
Lawyers often read stuff overfilled with prepositions. Stuff like, “In the event that a party wishes to appeal, the party shall make a filing of the notice of appeal in the office of the clerk of court for the Supreme Court within thirty days of the date of the day of the entry of the order being appealed, unless the thirtieth days falls on a weekend, in which case the notice of appeal shall be filed before the end of the next business day.” Say what?
Why not say, “Parties wishing to appeal an order must file a notice of appeal with the Supreme Court clerk within 30 days from that order’s entry. If the 30th day falls on a weekend, the party may file that next Monday.” The revision cuts a 75-word monster almost in half without a loss in meaning.
Replace of phrases – the biggest savings came from replacing the of-phrases. I changed thirty days “of the date of the day of the entry of the order being appealed” into 30 days “from that order’s entry.” Using the possessive transformed four of phrases with fourteen words into one four-word phrase. The “office of the clerk of court for the Supreme Court” similarly became the “Supreme Court clerk.” Changing the prepositional phrase into an adjective saved seven words.
Replace or cut in phrases - I also dropped the “in the event that” beginning because it adds nothing. I could have translated the phrase “if,” to begin “If a party wishes to appeal . . ..”
Many in phrases have one-word replacements, such as “in order that” = so; “in accordance with” = by or under; “in reference to” = about; “in relation to” = about; and “in the course of” = during. In § 11.2, The Redbook: A Manual On Legal Style trims these and many other phrases to one word. Other authors have similarly translated what they call “hideous prepositional phrases” in their article, How to Write Good Legal Stuff.
Eliminate “by” phrase (passive v. active voice) – I also looked for the word “by” because it often signals the passive voice. Changing the voice, by putting the focus on the actor doing the filing and not the object being filed, saved words and strengthened meaning,
Resurrect verbs – I lastly changed “the party shall make a filing” to “must file.” Last Friday’s post discussed how lawyers are bad about creating zombie nouns by burying verbs. Resurrecting buried verbs often trims the word count and makes for stronger writing.
Anyone have other suggestions on how to trim the fat? Please leave a reply or reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com. In the meantime, please enjoy this video on prepositions -