Friday, April 17, 2015

Getting Your Legal Writing Right

I remember the time that a favourite client of mine gave me a schooling in the art of legal writing – and proofreading.

A retired lawyer (and the consummate gentleman), he had retained me to draft revisions to a fairly complex Last Will and Testament.

He was a bit of a stickler. And I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have worked with him. Because even though my content was fine, he still had lots to say about the way my draft was set up.
Here, in a nutshell, is what I learned from him.

Precision and consistency in style, capitalization and formatting can be at least as important as content in the creation of legal documentation that meets the standards of our profession.

In other words:

  • Consistent Capitals, Please: If you are capitalizing Executor in one paragraph, you need to capitalize that word everywhere in the document. This holds true in pleadings as well. If Respondent reappears in your document, be consistent in whether you capitalize it;
  • Don’t mix and match your semicolons and periods: If you are working on a list, use semicolons throughout, except for the last paragraph of your list, which should end with a period;
  • Don’t mess with gender: “His/her” is probably never appropriate in a legal document, and certainly is not appropriate when dealing with a single person. Take the time to verify that your gender descriptions fit your document – especially when you are working from templates and precedents;
  • Paragraph numbering: To avoid errors in paragraph numbering, especially when editing, always use automatic formatting for paragraphs and lists;
  • Proofread once, twice and then proofread again. The same goes for spell checking – this should be done after every revision;
  • Use section titles:  These will make your document easier to read. Once again, consistency matters. If you are using titles, decide whether you will be underlining them, using bold font, or both, and stick to that same selection throughout your document;
  • Revisit your draft. Where possible, after you have finished your document, put it away for a few hours or a day before sending it out. Come back to it later to do a final check. You could be surprised at the number of obvious errors – in content and style – you may find when you have fresh eyes available.
Yes, it really does matter that you get it right.

As a lawyer, you are among other things, a professional writer. Your work product is your calling card, and it will go a long way, particularly when you’re starting out, toward establishing how your clients and colleagues assess you.

(As well, your supervising lawyer will probably not appreciate being called upon repeatedly to edit sloppiness, spelling mistakes, typos, formatting errors, and grammatical problems you could have found yourself in your draft).

So that’s a wrap on this week’s tip:  Take the time to get your writing right. It will make a difference.

Because it will demonstrate that you care.

(Cross-posted at SlawTips)
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Discussion with Mitch Kowalski, 2015 LSUC Bencher Candidate

I had a good sit-down today with Mitch Kowalski, 2015 LSUC Bencher candidate, who discusses current issues facing the Law Society of Upper Canada, including governance, ABS, articling, professional discipline and the future of paralegals.

It's well worth the watch - and sorry for the intermittent audio distortion.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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Monday, April 13, 2015

140 Law - Legal Headlines for the week of April 6, 2015

Here are the leading legal headlines from Wise Law on Twitter:
- Rachel Spence, Law Clerk

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Monday, April 06, 2015

10 Years of Wise Law Blog

My calendar tells me that yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the commencement of Wise Law Blog

3,284 posts later, here we still are.

There is so much I could say about the enormous impact blogging has had on our firm - and on the vital role Canada's law blogs continue to play in providing accessible legal information and crucial analysis to the public and the profession.

But in the interest of keeping this post short and personal, for now, let me simply say thank you. 

Thank you to our readers. Thank you to the many good friends I've made in the Toronto law blogging community. Thank you to the members of the media and the Clawbie powers-that-be who have been so kind to us over the years.

And of course, a special thank you to all of our Wise Law lawyers, staff and alumni who have contributed their insights through their many posts over this last 10 years.

My, how quickly the time has passed. May our next decade of blogging be at least as much fun as our first.

And happy blogversary to us!
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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140 Law - Legal Headlines for Week of March 30th

Here are the leading legal headlines from Wise Law on Twitter:
- Rachel Spence, Law Clerk & Office Manager
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Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Working Stay-Cation

I shoulda been in Jamaica, this week.

For a variety of scheduling reasons, mostly my significant other’s, that didn’t work out as planned. Which is not the end of the world, particularly with temperatures hitting 15 degrees in Toronto today.

(It’s 28 in Runaway Bay, Jamaica though, as we speak).

But today’s tip is not about the thermometer. Rather it’s about the “stay-cation.”

My week was booked off for vacation and I decided to keep it that way. The order of events for the week, I prognosticated, would be:

1. Catch up with my emails.

2. Relax.

Four days later, I am still working on item number 1.

Now, my tips partner, David Bilinsky, has written previously about the quest for inbox zero, and I continue to pursue that elusive goal, with most of the week now behind us.

I am not complaining. Rather, my insight is that it might not be such a bad idea to book a week off here and there, as a matter of course, just to catch up.

A week with no meetings, no telephone discussions. No administritivia. No mediations, discoveries, or court attendances.

Just a week to address all those matters that have needed attention or otherwise have fallen between the cracks.

Give it some thought.

All I can say is that at the end of this stay-cation, with Easter and Passover holidays arriving, inbox zero is looking like a distinct possibility.

And that adds up to happy clients and happy lawyers.

(And happy insurers too, I should probably add).

So today’s tip: Consider booking the working stay-cation to deal with your backlog and to catch up on all that unfinished business. It works.

A good holiday to all.

(Cross-Posted at Slaw Tips)
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Monday, March 30, 2015

140Law - Leading Legal Headlines For The Week of March 23, 2015

Here are the recent legal headlines from Wise Law on Twitter:
-Rachel Spence

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Monday, March 23, 2015

140 Law - Legal Headlines for the Week of March 16, 2015

Here are the leading legal headlines from Wise Law on Twitter:
- Rachel Spence, Law Clerk

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Late Lawyers (and Other Musings)

New York City’s embattled, progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, has in rapid order acquired a bit of a reputation for failing to arrive on time. His tardy tendencies have even launched a new cottage industry in the press, the “De Blasio was Late Again” outrage-of-the-day story.

Late the for a St. Patrick’s Day mass. Late for a plane crash memorial service. Late to a police officer’s wake. Late for an event in his own home. Gosh, even late in responding to a snowstorm.

Naturally, the most civic minded among the journalistic order have taken it upon themselves to be solution-oriented. Thus, we are not surprised at the inevitable spawning of a sub-genre of well-intentioned suggestions for the Mayor, such as How Not to Be Late: A Self-Help Guide for Bill de Blasio.

There is even a Bill de Blasio Lateness Excuse Generator (pictured above), where technology meets tardy, and perpetually late landers can have appropriate mayoral excuses created for immediate use on virtually any occasion.

Now back home, here in the legal profession, lateness can be serious business, particularly in America.

A repeat-offending Texas lawyer was suspended this past January for being 30 minutes late in filing a death penalty stay petition. In 2008, a Los Angeles defence attorney was jailed for two days after arriving late for a sixth time at court. Sanctions and fines were the fate of a “punctuality-challenged” Bronx defence lawyer in 2007.

The Canadian attitude toward tardy lawyers is, predictably, somewhat more measured. As noted by Robert Bell and Caroline Abela in a 2009 paper for the Advocates Society, A Lawyer’s Duty to the Court:

Being late for court, although highly irritating and a waste of time, is generally not conduct that is considered egregious and neglectful of a lawyer’s obligation. However, in our view, tardiness is a breach of a lawyer’s duty to the courts because it, among other things, causes delay and disruption to the court process. Tardiness effects the administration of justice. For example, in LSUC v. Ducas, the Law Society hearing panel found, inter alia, that the lawyer had breached his duty to the court by appearing 25 minutes late for his own motion by which time the motion had been dismissed.
In fact, recent rulings in Ontario make it clear that even the bench must avoid precipitous action in the face of tardy counsel.

For example, note the 2014 case of Justice of the Peace Alfred “Bud” Johnston:

The Justices of the Peace Review Council upheld two complaints against the Old City Hall JP: that he was “arrogant and sarcastic” when courier Alexander Leaf appeared before him without a lawyer on Nov. 22, 2012 to fight a charge of driving with a handheld device; and that he abused his position by dismissing an afternoon session of 68 charges on Dec. 4, 2012 because the prosecutor was one minute and 10 seconds late.

Similarly, in 2012, Ontario Court Justice Howard Chisvin was reprimanded by an Ontario Judicial Council panel for summarily dismissing 33 charges for “want of prosecution” after a Crown was briefly late in returning from a recess:

The prosecutor, Brian McCallion, had been preparing for one of the cases by reading a psychiatric report on one of the accused people and didn’t hear several pages for him.

Court records show that after court had reconvened, the judge waited all of one minute and 27 seconds before throwing out the entire docket.

Now, to be clear, your faithful writer has perhaps also had the “occasional” tardy moment. This is by no means a point of pride. It might, however, inform the interest with which I view these developments in mayoral, lawyerly and judicial timeliness.

For late-at-heart lawyers, I am glad to note there remains hope when confronted with the challenge of improving time management in an era of of Too Little Time.
 Via Good Housekeeping writer Frances Lefkowitz: 
WHY YOU’RE IN THIS FIX: “There are so many misconceptions about lateness,” says time-management consultant [Diana] DeLonzor. Top false assumptions: People who are late are inconsiderate, selfish, controlling, lazy, or looking for attention. In fact, many people who run late have trouble accurately judging time and thus underestimate how long things will take. Psychologists call this the planning fallacy — and it’s part of being human. “We have an idealized version of how things go,” explains Steel, “and we edit out how much time things actually require.” Chronically late people fall prey to the planning fallacy in spades, misjudging the time needed even for things they do regularly, like fixing breakfast or driving to work. Call her optimistic, idealistic, or unrealistic, but if a person who tends to run late once got to work in 19 minutes — on a good traffic morning, catching all green lights — she assumes she can bank on this swift journey every day. “Late people time things exactly, according to the best-case scenario — but of course the world doesn’t work that way,” says DeLonzor… 
SIMPLE WAYS OUT: First, confront your magical thinking with cold, hard facts: Spend a week timing your daily tasks — what DeLonzor calls “relearning to tell time.” Once you know how long it really takes to shower, get the kids dressed, and feed the dog, you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Second, always plan to arrive early, factoring 15 extra minutes into every trip. Chances are you’ll end up on time; in the worst-case scenario, you’ll have a few minutes to relax, get a drink of water, and fix your hair. Like Hall, late people often view time spent waiting as time wasted. But if you carry a book, knitting, or your cell phone, you can use a few extra minutes productively. Finally, have a strategy for each day. “A lot of people with time-management issues don’t have a clear sense of how their day is going to pan out,” says DeLonzor. So make a list, with your revamped time estimates written next to each item. Then you’ll be able to tell if you’ve scheduled 30 hours’ worth of activity into a 24-hour day.
Today’s tip logically follows. Address any tendencies toward lateness by taking a hard look at your time management.  In particular, assess the accuracy of your estimates about the time required to complete tasks and to get from point A to B.

That is worth thinking about.

As they say, better late than never.

(Cross Posted at Slaw-Tips)

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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Law Society of Upper Canada Honours Lawyers

Every year the Law Society of Upper Canada (the "Law Society") presents its "best of the profession awards". This year awards will be presented on May 27, 2015 at Osgoode Hall. The Law Society was founded in 1797 and is the largest of all Canadian law societies. As of 2010 the Law Society is the regulating body of over 40,000 lawyers, and 2,800 paralegals in Ontario.

Recently the Law Society announced this years award winners of the Law Society Medal, the Lincoln Alexander Award, the Laura Legge Award and the William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award.

In a statement the Law Society Treasurer Janet Minor recently said,
The Law Society looks forward to honouring these 11 exceptional legal professionals whose careers represent the highest level of achievement and commitment to serving the public and the professions.
The 2015 Law Society Medal recipients are:
  • Craig R. Carter, CS
  • Prof. Adam M. Dodek
  • Susan Eng
  • Faisal Joseph
  • John B. Laskin
  • H. J. Stewart Lavigueur
  • E. Patrick Shea, CS
  • Chantal Tie
This medal is awarded in recognition of distinguished service. As of 2014, the Law Society Medal has only been awarded to 160 lawyers. 

The 2015 Lincoln Alexander Award recipient is Paul Le Vay. This award is presented annually to an Ontario lawyer who has demonstrated a long-standing interest and commitment to the public and the the pursuit of community service.

The 2015 Laura Legge Award recipient is Kimberly Murray. This award is presented annually to a female lawyer in Ontario who has exemplified leadership within the profession.

The 2015 William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award recipient is W. Paul Dray. This award is presented annually to a paralegal in Ontario who has demonstrated one or more of the following characteristics: outstanding professional achievement, contribution to the development of the profession, devotion to professional duties, adherence to best practices and mentoring of others in best practices, a history of community service, or personal character that brings credit to the paralegal profession.

Congratulations to all of the award recipients on the recognition by the Law Society of their respective achievements.

- Kenneth R. Bandeira, Associate Lawyer, Toronto

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Medical Marijuana Law Goes to Canada's High Court (No Pun Intended)

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada will decide whether Canadians have the constitutional right to consume medically-prescribed marijuana in a manner other than smoking.

Currently, it's only legal for medical marijuana users to intake dried-marijuana plants. They can't add it to baked goods or anything else, without opening themselves up to charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for criminal trafficking and narcotics possession. 

The question before the Court is whether these regulations violate physician-prescribed users' section 7 Charter rights to life, liberty and safety. 

Read more at the Ottawa Citizen.
- Rachel Spence, Law Clerk

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