Law’s Love of Adverbs

Ah—the maligned adverb. Many writers eschew them. Stephen King, for example, seems to hate them. In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he writes, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs[.]” He likens them to dandelions: one of them might look pretty, but they’re actually weeds that can and do take over your lawn (or, in the case of adverbs, your writing).

What is an adverb? Generally speaking, it’s a word that ends in –ly (though not always; scroll down here to see adverbs as emphasizers, amplifiers, and downtoners—all words we lawyers like to use). The purpose of an adverb is to modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Getting rid of adverbs can, in fact, make our writing better because we are forced to choose stronger or more precise words. For example, I could write, Losing that case made me very angry. In that sentence, the adverb is “very” and it modifies “angry.” I wasn’t just angry, I was very angry. But wouldn’t it be more vivid, more precise, if I instead wrote, Losing that case made me livid?

That being said, there are good reasons to use adverbs, especially in legal writing of all kinds—memos, briefs, judicial opinions, statutes, rules, and regulations. Why? The law operates in the grey areas. A legal writer who is asked to give an objective opinion on whether a person might be liable for a particular claim can sometimes do no better than giving a qualified answer, like Martin is probably not liable. Other times, a legal writer will throw in adverbs to emphasize her point in a brief: Plaintiff is clearly entitled to relief. In judicial opinions, judges may want or need the wiggle room that an adverb can provide. A legal rule that comes from case law might allow certain conduct so long as it does not substantially burden certain people, for example. The question that lawyers will argue about in future cases, then, is what it means to substantially burden, and in so arguing, those lawyers will likely rely on tons of adverbs.

See here for a delightful article on why adverbs seem to be here to stay—at least for lawyers. Obviously, you’ll find it really enlightening.


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Wisconsin to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

wedding cakeOn Monday, the United States Supreme Court quietly denied certiorari on cases from three federal courts of appeals (the 4th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, and the 10th Circuit) that found bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. The Court’s denial leaves those federal decisions standing, thus making same-sex marriage legal in five states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The decision is also likely to mean that the other states covered by those federal appellate court districts—Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming—will also allow same-sex marriage. Or at least, they can’t ban it.

Most surprising to many SCOTUS observers was that the Court made no comment about its decision to deny certiorari.

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Dealing with Law School Stress

9e5f2e74ad783851eeb0312f24f2c7d5It’s a gray, rainy fall-like Friday. The fall is a wonderful season, especially in Wisconsin. But the fall, for law students, brings with it some added stressors: negotiating the fall interview season for 2Ls, keeping up with the increased workload in classes, squeezing in pro bono hours, writing appellate briefs or memos, all while trying to still have a life outside of law school. These stressors can feel overwhelming, especially to the 1Ls who are, as of yet, unfamiliar with the full rhythm of law school.

Some of these stressors are unavoidable. But others can we manage. Or at least we can adjust our expectations so that our responses to those stressors are healthier. See here  for law school’s common stressors and how to manage them.

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