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Three tips to avoid being a “Boomer” in your legal writing

Allow me to introduce myself – a recovering law student, newly admitted attorney, and newest member of the High Point Bar Association. My name is Allison C. Layton, and I am the Associate Attorney at Sams Law Firm, PC. Otherwise known as, mini – Melissa Sams.

So I’ve passed the Bar Exam and my boss hits me with a creative writing assignment…my favorite. As we were brainstorming ideas, this blog quickly turned into a “Boomer Blog,” or the perspectives of a young attorney in an industry that evolves at a snail’s pace. Here are my three biggest tips as a recent graduate, specifically tailored toward legal writing:

1. The Oxford Comma: It’s a thing. This is not a huge point of contention, but it is definitely one that sets apart the Boomer from the Millennial or Gen X lawyer. Simply put, the Oxford Comma is the last comma in a list of things. It helps to separate and provide distinction between items within a sentence. Structurally, the difference is “A, b and c” vs. “A, b, and c.”

Consider this example: “We had prosciutto, cheese and crackers and wine.” Now consider this example using the Oxford Comma: “We had prosciutto, cheese and crackers, and wine.” In this case, clarity demands the use of the Oxford Comma because cheese and crackers are a distinct category that need to be separated from the last item in the list, wine.

Let’s try another example: “We have wine, beer and whiskey.” Beer and whiskey are (or should be) two separate drinks. Therefore, you would write this instead as “We have wine, beer, and whiskey” to differentiate all three items within the list.

The Oxford Comma is a minor change that can have a major impact on the clarity of your legal writing, and will set you apart from the stereotypical Boomer lawyer.

2. Two Spaces After Every Period: A cause I am very passionate about – don’t do it. It took me a while to decide when to break this news to my boss, and I rocked her world when I explained this to her. There should only be one space after every period in legal writing…not two, and certainly never three. This is a sure fire tell of your older age and will stick out like a sore thumb to all of your younger clients. Further, your Associate Attorneys will have to go behind your work removing them and updating all of your templates. Save yourself the time and extra spaces, and thank me later.

3. Fonts: A comment on Twitter read “Becoming a litigator means condemning yourself to a life of Times New Roman.” In the kindest way possible, use Times New Roman 12 point font for everything – e-mails, pleadings, correspondence, etc. Arial is the Boomer font, and legal writing has moved on from it long ago. If you insist on using a bigger font, try Palatino Linotype. It’s great and very readable.

That wraps up my three biggest tips on how to avoid being a Boomer in your legal writing. If you need me, I can be reached at allisonlayton@samslegal.com. I look forward to meeting you all in the near future.

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