Small ideas on legal practice, research and technology

Small Things

Small and incorrect, that is.


This isn’t wrong when used as a noun (She sent a bottle of wine as a thank-you) or as an adjective (That thank-you bottle was much appreciated).

It is wrong when you are using the words to thank someone, as I saw in an e-mail recently: Thank-you for your help.

In that instance, Thank you is just a truncated version of I thank you, and no hyphen is necessary (or correct) in that kind of short sentence.

Fear and loathing?

This was the opening to a recent e-mail …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Thanks (Again)

I wrote previously about thank-you (with the hyphen, it’s noun or adjective only – not the actual expression of thanks).

Someone I follow on Twitter (@BrendanCormier) identified another problematic usage involving gratitude: thanks in advance, which he calls ‘one of the most insidiously awful phrases in the english language’.

I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment.

Even though it’s grammatically unassailable, stylistically it’s deplorable.

Presumably your request also incudes please, so the anticipatory thanking is redundant. Thanks in advance is also becoming a shop-worn cliché (so to be avoided for that reason alone).

But more than that, the phrase …

Posted in: Research & Writing

An Apostrophe Catastrophe™ From Someone Who Ought to Know Better

Seen in an e-mail from one of the big legal publishers (there are really only two, so that narrows it down; emphasis added):

“Tailor a motion or argument to a specific judge by reviewing the cases, phrases, and judge’s a judge is most likely to rely upon.”

Judges is a plural noun here, not a possessive. Obviously.

Did they fire all the copy-editors?

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)…

Posted in: Research & Writing

Finding Older Newspaper Articles

While recent newspaper articles are reasonably easy to find (give or take a paywall), older newspaper articles can be a bit more challenging to locate.

If a newspaper article you are looking for is not available through the paper’s website, the following resources may be useful in tracking articles down:

  • The newspaper resources offered by your public library.
  • Check out your local university’s publicly available databases; you may find resources akin to UBC’s B.C. Historical Newspapers database.
  • Google News Archives Search – this provides access to archives of newspapers, both scanned and text-based. Searching is free, but there may be
Posted in: Research & Writing

Social Media

Increasingly, I’m seeing this with a singular verb: Social media is …, Social media has

While the phrase can logically be regarded as a singular concept encompassing different components (LinkedIn, Twitter and their ilk), I still don’t like it.

Why? Media is a plural, the singular form of which is medium.

Just like data, which is the plural of datum – although I guess I can see big data as singular if it means a monolithic construct rather than the sum of its parts.

The French don’t do this better. Where we would refer to the media

Posted in: Research & Writing

Fonts: The Forensic and the Forward-Looking

First, the forensic.

In Re McGoey, 2019 ONSC 80, a bankrupt argued that two properties had been placed in trust for his children in 1995 and were not part of the assets available to his creditors in 2018.

The trustee in bankruptcy produced an expert in design and typography, who testified that the fonts of the purported trust deeds (Cambria and Calibri, respectively) were developed by Microsoft in 2002 and not released to the public until 2007. No one in 1995 could have used them.

On the strength of that evidence, the judge concluded that the …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Gross Negligence

As a follow-up to my last tip, which was on strictly prohibited and strictly forbidden, what about gross negligence?

This is a term we have imported from US law. Canadian (and English) judges and authors were not keen on it initially.

Linden et al in Canadian Tort Law (2018) cite Baron Rolfe, a famous 19th-century English jurist (later Lord Cranworth LC), who said that gross negligence is merely ordinary negligence ‘with the addition of a vituperative epithet’. A sceptical American judge ‘is reputed to have compared the differences among negligence, gross negligence and recklessness to the distinctions among …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Finding UK Docket Materials

I’ve previously talked about how to find docket information about Canadian courts.

If you’re trying to find information about the status of current British cases, there are a few options:

  • The HM Courts & Public Tribunals website offers docket information for the Queen’s Bench Claims and Appeals (London only) and the Business and Property Courts. It is free to search once you create a login. Coverage is as follows:
    • Business and Property Courts (London only): 1 January 2016 (for new cases)
    • Queen’s Bench Claims and Appeals (London only): 5 November 2018
    • Business and Property Courts (outside of London): 25
Posted in: Research & Writing

Strictly Ballroom?

Strictly Ballroom is the title of a 1992 movie by Baz Luhrmann.

What has this to do with legal writing? The word strictly.

Like all adverbs, strictly is weak, even when it is meant to sound tough.

Think of strictly prohibited, which is frequently seen in toothless e-mail notices: ‘This e-mail message is privileged and confidential. Any unauthorized use or disclosure is strictly prohibited.’ By what? Sender, the horse is out of the barn door.

Strictly prohibited seems to be especially popular in the regulations of Nova Scotia. Some choice excerpts from the Boxing Authority Regulations, …

Posted in: Research & Writing

Complete Comma Confusion

Commas can be confusing, and one of the most common misuses is this:

Join partner, Eleni Papadopoulos for this informative seminar on …

Sometimes another comma will be placed after the person’s name as well.

Both are wrong where there are more partners than one.

Offsetting someone’s name with two commas suggests she is the only partner (which is impossible at law), and using only one comma just doesn’t make sense.

To recapitulate, My friend Ed… means I have a friend called Ed, but also some other friends. My friend, Ed, … means I’m a bit of a loser and …

Posted in: Research & Writing