Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lori Robinett: Use of the English Language

Note: Today's Guest Author is Lori Robinett, President of the Mid-Missouri Paralegal Association. I subscribe to the association's blog on my Google Reader. Lori's also an aspiring author who blogs as Elle Robb. Check that out at She's even won some awards at the Ozark Creative Writer's Conference.

Use of the English Language
By Lori Robinett

There's currently an ad running on a local radio station that has been done by national celebrities. One of the celebs says the owner of Business A is "prompt and professionable." That drives me crazy every time I hear it (and, yes, I scream at the radio as if he can actually hear me).

Just today, I read a letter written by an attorney to my employer. It says:
"You have expressed medical liens with regard to our clients, [husband] and his wife, [wife: name misspelled], these people have health insurance."
AAARRRGGGHHHH!!! Does no one proofread? Does no one know how the English language works? Is proper grammar a thing of the past?
  • First of all - spell your client's name correctly.

  • Second, this should have been two sentences.

  • Third, what the????? (not to mention the fact that an attorney should know the law that relates to the subject matter.)
The letter appears to have been transcribed by the attorney's secretary. This brings to mind another question: Should you transcribe documents exactly, word for word, with punctuation, as your supervising attorney speaks it?
My opinion? I say no. You are the filter through which the attorney speaks. I have always considered it my job to make my supervising attorney look good. That said, I do point out that I corrected an error, so that he knows the change that was made. Do it nicely and be knowledgeable. Your boss will appreciate it.
'Castle' is one of my favorite shows. The question of "your" versus "you're" was a topic on a recent episode. A murderer wrote a message on the face of his victim, and used the wrong version. It really ate at Castle, and I thought, I'm not the only one that notices that! Ha!
Someone I know frequently uses the word 'irregardless'. That's not a word. It's 'regardless'. My ex-husband used to refer to people with total hearing loss as "death." Yup, you read that correctly!
I'm sure you've talked to people who misuse the language. Stop and think about it for a moment. What is your opinion of that person? Do you think of that as more or less intelligent when you hear a word misused?
I know I pay more attention to the English language than a lot of people do, purely because it's part of who I am: a paralegal who writes in her spare time. In the world of legal documents, every word and every punctuation mark has meaning.
If you need a refresher, check out these sites:

And if you're brave, take Grammar Monster's test here.

You must make sure the words on the page reflect the intended meaning. Preciseness and accuracy are an absolute necessity. And the way you use language is a reflection on you and your employer. Take the time to learn the English language, pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Lori Robinett received her B.S. degree from Central Missouri State University in 1990. She has taken numerous paralegal courses since taking her first job with a law firm in 1994, and has worked her way up from receptionist to legal secretary to legal assistant. After several years of working for private firms, she moved to a position as legal assistant with the Office of General Counsel with the University of Missouri in 2008. She is a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and is a member of the Paralegal Committee of the Missouri Bar, is currently serving as President of the Mid-Missouri Paralegal Association, and is editor of The Gavel, a regional paralegal newsletter. She is webmaster for blogs (though not as regularly as she would like).

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