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February 24, 2004

A Large Incentive to Proofread Pleadings

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:00 pm

A federal magistrate has sent a loud warning to lawyers with a “whatever” attitude about typos and sloppy writing submitted to courts.  After noting that attorney Brian Puricelli’s courtroom work was “smooth” and “artful” in a civil rights suit, but that his written work was “careless” and laden with typographical errors, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart “has ruled that his court-awarded fees should be paid at two rates — $300 per hour for the courtroom work, but $150 per hour for work on the pleadings.” (The Legal Intelligencer , Judge Slashes Lawyer’s Rate for Typos, Careless Writing, 02-25-04)


According to The Legal Intelligencer, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacob P. Hart wrote in his 12-page fee opinion in Devore v. City of Philadelphia that



minusKey  “Mr. Puricelli’s complete lack of care in his written product shows disrespect for the court. His errors, not just typographical, caused the court a considerable amount of work. Hence, a substantial reduction is in order. We believe that $150 per hour is, in fact, generous.”


Hart added, “If these mistakes were purposeful, they would be brilliant.” 

 

‘Nuff said. Write Right.

6 Comments

  1. It is hard to comment on the fairness of the Judge’s rulings without knowing the substance of the pleadings. If the pleadings were well researched and supported by reasonably uniform citations (in other words, not total bluebook conformance but at least enough information to find the case), the I think the issue of typos and sloppy writing is less relevant. Perhaps the Judge might be warranted in cutting some hours but that should be the extent of the penalty.
    Moreover, in the long run, the overall effect of the Judge’s ruling is essentially to increase rates that will be awarded in these types of actions. The next time attorneys bring a civil rights action, they will either use a lower level associate to do proofing or spend more time proofing, which will mean the brief will cost more. Where lawyers’ resources on a case are limited, they make a cost-benefit decision – as Puricelli presumably did – to cut hours where the cuts would have the least impact. Apparently, here, Puricelli realized that a well prepared case before a jury was a better investment of his time than proofing every word of the pleading. But after this judge’s decision, lawyers won’t be making that kind of decision anymore – and again, it’s going to result in increased rates for both the side that gets stuck with the bill and possibly the client if he or she is fronting the costs.

    Comment by Carolyn Elefant — February 25, 2004 @ 9:54 am

  2. It is hard to comment on the fairness of the Judge’s rulings without knowing the substance of the pleadings. If the pleadings were well researched and supported by reasonably uniform citations (in other words, not total bluebook conformance but at least enough information to find the case), the I think the issue of typos and sloppy writing is less relevant. Perhaps the Judge might be warranted in cutting some hours but that should be the extent of the penalty.
    Moreover, in the long run, the overall effect of the Judge’s ruling is essentially to increase rates that will be awarded in these types of actions. The next time attorneys bring a civil rights action, they will either use a lower level associate to do proofing or spend more time proofing, which will mean the brief will cost more. Where lawyers’ resources on a case are limited, they make a cost-benefit decision – as Puricelli presumably did – to cut hours where the cuts would have the least impact. Apparently, here, Puricelli realized that a well prepared case before a jury was a better investment of his time than proofing every word of the pleading. But after this judge’s decision, lawyers won’t be making that kind of decision anymore – and again, it’s going to result in increased rates for both the side that gets stuck with the bill and possibly the client if he or she is fronting the costs.

    Comment by Carolyn Elefant — February 25, 2004 @ 9:54 am

  3. Carolyn, I think you’re overstating how much extra work it takes to proofread a documuent — especially one that has been initially drafted with due care. I don’t buy the notion that making sure your submissions parse correctly (so the judge or magistrate doesn’t have to guess your meaning) and are sufficiently free of typos to avoid annoying the court, is optional or excessively costly diligence.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 25, 2004 @ 10:26 am

  4. Carolyn, I think you’re overstating how much extra work it takes to proofread a documuent — especially one that has been initially drafted with due care. I don’t buy the notion that making sure your submissions parse correctly (so the judge or magistrate doesn’t have to guess your meaning) and are sufficiently free of typos to avoid annoying the court, is optional or excessively costly diligence.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 25, 2004 @ 10:26 am

  5. All I can say is, Go forth, and do likewise, Judges of Mississippi.

    Comment by Scipio — February 26, 2004 @ 1:10 pm

  6. All I can say is, Go forth, and do likewise, Judges of Mississippi.

    Comment by Scipio — February 26, 2004 @ 1:10 pm

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