Parentheticals in legal writing

Howard Bashman, in How Appealing, has an entry headed You know they’re criminals because they have aliases. He quotes an opinion beginning:

bq. Chittakone Chanthasouxat (“Chanthasouxat”) and Keopaseuth Xayasane
(“Xayasane”) (collectively, “Defendants”) appeal their convictions for drugrelated offenses.

Bashman’s mild query as to whether it was necessary to write “Chanthasouxat” is taken up by Eugene Volokh:

bq. Why do lawyers think it’s helpful to have obvious parentheticals like this? If there is only one Chanthasouxat in the case, people will realize that Chanthasouxat refers to that Chanthasouxat. If there is more than one, then you shouldn’t call either Chanthasouxat. Likewise, there were exactly two defendants in the cases being considered in the opinion; who else would “Defendants” refer to?

Bashman also links to a Findlaw review of Volokh’s new book on academic legal writing.

These parentheticals make me think of the technique in translation of quoting a statute both in German and English to introduce the German abbreviation. This shouldn’t be done slavishly, only as far as is necessary to help the reader.

The use of aliases for criminals reminds me of a report about two shoplifters in Fürth whose names were replaced by aliases – Oleg and Olga. Their nationality was not mentioned.

3 thoughts on “Parentheticals in legal writing

  1. >>This shouldn’t be done slavishly, only as far as is necessary to help the reader.<

    The catch being: How do you detect the transition from doing something consistently to doing it slavishly? And how do you know how much help any given reader is going to need? Derek

  2. >>Why do lawyers think it’s helpful to have obvious parentheticals like this?<<

    Again, isn’t it a matter of being consistent and unambiguous? The parentheticals aren’t always obvious and what might be obvious to the author might not be obvious to all the readers. If the two defendants are “Board of Commissioners of Prince George’s County” and “New Jersey Racing Commission”, for example, isn’t it reassuring to know before starting out to read the thing that the first has been shortened to (“the Board”) and the second to (“the Commission”)? The last thing that would improve the readability of legal documents would be to remove all redundancy! Derek

  3. On the first comment, you’re right, Derek, you don’t always know. But it’s not necessary to give the original German for the Civil Code or the Federal Constitutional Court.
    Another situation where you can simplify things is where some obscure legal nicety is irrelevant to the main purpose of a text. Take the word Erbe (see later entry): a lot of the time you can translate it as ‘heir’, even though that’s imprecise. If heirs are arguing about who buys out who after they inherit a house, there’s no need to explain that they aren’t Vermächtnisnehmer under German law.
    As to the second question, Volokh’s point is that you need not write ‘Board of Commissioners of Prince George’s County (“The Board”)’, but it’s enough to write ‘Board of Commissioners of Prince George’s County’ and later refer to it as The Board. I usually do whatever the German does. I really ought to write ‘the Company’, or ‘Schmidt’ rather than ‘the Defendant’, though – that would make it easier to read.

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