Law and Conversation

February 25, 2011

Mistresses in history and literature

Having posted on passion and probate law earlier this week, it seems timely to note that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “The Book Show” featured a Canadian writer and academic, Elizabeth Abbott, speaking to host Ramona Koval about her book, “Mistresses:  A History of The Other Womanon February 24. Abbott’s book is part of a nonfiction trilogy:  she’s also published a history of marriage and one of celibacy.

History and literature have provided Abbott and others with plenty of material on the topic. Charles Dickens, who worked briefly as a law clerk and wrote many a good story having to do with lawyers and legal matters, went to great lengths to keep his mistress a secret. Writer Claire Tomalin took mere scraps Dickens left behind as clues to create a masterful narrative in her book, “The Invisible Woman:  the Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.”

Speaking of Canadian professors, Dickens, and the law, Associate Professor Kate Sutherland of Osgood Hall Law School at York University in Toronto has started a new blog, law.arts.culture, in which she explores the intersection of law and the arts. Sutherland described Dickens’s 1844 copyright suit over “The Christmas Carol” earlier this month.  Follow her on Twitter for fascinating tweets on law and literature from her handles @lawartsculture, @LawandLit, and @katesbookblog.

On a different front, Joel Stickley’s blog, “How To Write Badly Well,” is great fun for readers and writers alike.  I particularly enjoyed his post on allowing autonomy to body parts.  Check it out!

September 9, 2010

Thursday thanks!

Filed under: CLE,Law,legal writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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I recently came across Advocate’s Studio, the blog of Martha Sperry, a Boston lawyer who, like me, has a strong writing background and is also interested in music, technology, and a wide range of other subjects.  On her blog, Martha covers legal research and modern tech tools to assist the professional practice of law.  Unbeknownst to me, Martha praised my presentation for MentorCLE, “Persuasive Writing for Lawyers,” in a post last June.  Many thanks, Martha!

As I noted in a previous post, you can watch my presentation and any of MentorCLE’s other great offerings for free; if you’re a lawyer, you can pay a small fee and receive one hour of professionalism (ethics) credit for it in Illinois.  If you’re licensed in a different state, check out your state’s policies to see whether you can get CLE credit there.  As I mentioned last week,  I receive a small royalty every time someone views my course and pays for CLE credit.

A literary agent provides some adjectival suggestions for us writers to freshen up our prose at SlushPile Hell.  A LadyGagaLicious reference is guaranteed to make the judges of the Seventh Circuit (or any other court) sit up and take notice of your brief!   Hat tip:  Janet Reid via Twitter.

September 2, 2010

Thursday thanks!

Filed under: CLE,Law,lawyer writers,legal writing,trials — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:01 am
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I’d like to thank Illinois lawyer and superstar blawgger, Evan Schaeffer, for mentioning my recent article from the August 2010 Illinois Bar Journal, “Uncivil Action.”  I’ve interviewed Schaeffer on multiple occasions for articles on trial practice and legal technology.  He’s always responded to calls or e-mails promptly and provided spot-on commentary.  His inspiring, well written blogs have a wealth of information for lawyers on trial practice, writing, and technology, with occasional other fascinating tidbits thrown in.  And, in true superstar fashion, Evan sent me a very gracious e-mail when I started this blog, welcoming me to the blogosphere!

Evan was also kind enough to review my presentation for, “Persuasive Writing for Lawyers,” and gave it a thumbs up.  You can watch my presentation and any of MentorCLE’s other great offerings for free; if you’re a lawyer, you can pay a (rock bottom) $19.95 and receive one hour of professionalism (ethics) credit for it in Illinois.  If you’re licensed in a different state, check out your state’s policies to see whether you can get CLE credit there.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I receive a small royalty every time someone views my course and pays for CLE credit.

Here’s a fun site for others who love good writing:  The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks.  Hat tip:  writer Sandra Boncek Hume.  On the other end of the punctuation spectrum, Jane Austen apparently didn’t DO punctuation in her mss., says Jack Malvern in The Australian.  Hat tip:  Jane Austen Today.

Have I missed you?  I have some more posts in the works thanking others, one by one, who have linked to this blog and referenced my work.  If you’ve linked to this site and/or included it on your own blogroll, or otherwise referenced my work, please let me know.

March 12, 2010

What Writers Need

Filed under: Books and writing — Helen Gunnarsson @ 2:01 pm
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Love Matt Shoard’s post here  on The Guardian’s Books Blog on what he thinks writers need.  Contrary to what Virginia Woolf said, it’s not money and a room of one’s own:

 Real writers need frustration. They need embarrassment. They need cold, uncomfortable rooms, miles from a mobile [ed. Or Internet!] signal. There should be an infestation of at least one parasite, a backlog of warnings from the Student Loans Company and just enough coffee for what Don DeLillo calls “an occasional revelation”.

October 30, 2009

Singular and plural

Filed under: Books and writing,legal writing,Uncategorized — Helen Gunnarsson @ 5:15 pm
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An AP article posted this week in the online edition of the Chicago Tribune at,0,5187017.story , “Facebook keeps profiles of people who have died, though removes some features,” disturbed and disappointed me.

 You’re right—the article’s header is awkward.  But what REALLY bothered me was in the text of the article. 

 Here it is:

 “… only the deceased person’s confirmed friends can find them in a search.”

 PLEASE!  Has the AP—or the Tribune—cast aside all grammatical standards?  The word “them” refers to “person.”  “Person” is singular.  “Them,” therefore, is incorrect.

 I know, I know.  You speak this way.  (Full disclosure:  so do I.)  Prose in newspapers and magazines, and even in some documents filed in court, has become increasingly informal, more like speech.  I use an informal, spoken style myself for the articles I write for the Illinois Bar Journal.  It makes articles easier to read for busy people who are short on time and, perhaps, attention span.  So why is it not OK to write this way, too, and use “them,” or “they,” or “their,”  to refer to one person?

 Because it’s just WRONG, dammit.

 This sentence should be revised to read

 “…only the deceased person’s confirmed friends can find HIM OR HER in a search.” 

 Granted, “him or her” is clunky, using three words when you’d prefer one.  So why didn’t the writer—or the editor—follow Rene J. Cappon’s suggestion in “The Word:  An Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing,” by revising the sentence to put the whole business into the plural, like this: 

 “…only the deceased persons’ confirmed friends can find them in a search.”

 Or the writer could have tightened it up even more by eliminating “persons’,” like this:

 “…only the deceased’s confirmed friends can find them in a search.”  (Note that the term “deceased,” when used as a noun, may refer either to a singular dead person or to a multitude of dead people.)

 I shudder when I see this mistake in print, not only in some of what are supposed to be the finest publications in the country but also in court filings.  (Facebook itself consistently uses plural pronouns to refer to its singular users.)  Why on earth would any editor let a construction like this go to print?  Didn’t the writer, or the editors through whose hands the original piece passed, know any better?

I’ve read that, far from being a novelty, recorded examples of this substandard construction go back to Chaucer.  I know it’s inevitable for language and accepted style to change.  I even agree that change is good—that’s how English as we know it not only came into existence but also became so colorful and expressive.  But this is one change to reject.

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