March 07, 2004


I have finally figured out what the legal profession lacks. Abbreviations (abb's). Law doesn't have enough abb's, and the ones they have are often, well, just lame. As far as abb's go, law could learn a lot from medicine.

There simply aren't enough legal abbreviations, either to mystify the lay public or to simplify the process of legal writing. Sure, there are some common legal abbreviations out there. Citation forms are a reliable source: F. Supp. 2d; S. Ct.; U.S.C.A.; for example. But there don't seem to be any standard abbreviations for routine note-taking. Some people still use 'π' for 'plaintiff' and 'D' for 'defendant,' but this practice seems far from standard. And what about other words and phrases which beg for abbreviations, like 'holding' or 'issue' or 'overturned' or 'fee tail male subject to divesting executory interest'? It takes me five minutes to write all that stuff out.

Some of you will stop me here and say, "but, the Bluebook has many abbreviations." Don't tell me about the Bluebook. The abbreviations in there are just not cool. They're a pain in the ass. To see why, all you need to do is look at Table T.8 which purports to give "suggested abbreviations for citations of court documents and legal memoranda..." These abbreviations are lame. Counterclaim is abbreviated 'Countercl.' Deny is abbreviated 'Den.' And, here's some helpful ones: 'Answer' abbreviates 'Answer', Quash is abbreviated 'Quash'.*

To see why the law seems so bereft of abbreviations, all we need is to turn to the field of medicine, and compare:

"42 y.o. ♀ c/o RUQ abd. pain x 2 days. Hx of poorly-treated NIDDM, COPD, GERD. s/p MI one year ago, appy in childhood. Ob hx: G2P2. PE: wdwn ♀, NAD, AAOx3. PERRLA, no JVD. Abd: RUQ is TTP, no rebound. +BS . . ."

Although they'd protest the thoroughness and organization of this note, most any medical professional would understand what was said here, without reaching for anything resembling the Bluebook.

The great benefit of these abbreviations is that they speed up note writing AND mystify the lay public. The abbreviations in the Bluebook almost never do the former, and only occasionally do the latter.

Can the law do better? I think it can. We could someday, if we choose, write:

P, James Smith, AFSJ in fav. D re: SH under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), all. LC err R: I1-Standing. I2: excl. ev.
I1: St.: Y
I2: LC excl. ev.: O

"Plaintiff, James Smith, appeals from grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant in sexual harassment suit brought under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1). Smith alleges that the trial court erred in its ruling that he had no standing to sue, and on its ruling excluding certain evidence. We find that Smith did have standing, and overrule the trial court's exclusion of the evidence. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

(Gee, the legal writing here is almost as bad as the medical writing...)

But the point, I think, is made nonetheless. Any lawyers in favor of more abb's??

* I don't mind 'quash' so much, because 'quash' is too cool a word to abbreviate.

Posted by Carey at March 7, 2004 07:31 PM

I'm not in favor of more abbreviations in law. It's obscure enough as is. I understand from my wife that abbrevations are used in medicine because they need to be able to quickly write out patient notes in shorthand. They later call in and dictate the notes to a transcriptionist, who preserves them in a more readable permanent form. I don't see a similar need for expediency in law.

Posted by: Mark Ashton at March 7, 2004 09:32 PM

Abbreviations have their place in the law! My outlines, to be specific. They're full of ptf's argts, dfdt's counterargts, maj opns, nego'd agts and summ jgmts. Specific subjects also get such gems as aff axn, dedux, and A/S/C before RTP. Yippee!

Posted by: JCA at March 7, 2004 11:46 PM

I know you weren't exactly aiming for thoroughness in your listing of common abbs., but you did leave out N and K in the notetaking, and JNOV is pretty awesome in its own right.

Posted by: kodi at March 8, 2004 04:09 PM

dfntly nd mr abb's 'n law. 2p cht shts R gd 4 mking gr8 abb's like "l&OnR"

Posted by: bt at March 9, 2004 01:25 AM