Legal Research Blog


Pledging allegiance to politeness

Lawyers have a reputation for being argumentative and aggressive. While the practice of law is almost by its very nature adversarial, some feel that the “good guys v. bad guys” approach has gone too far.

The Wall Street Journal documented a group of lawyers who want to bring civility back to the courtroom. Though the group featured in the article and video presented their platform in a humorous way (a musical revue!), some bars have already implemented one of the suggestions: civility codes or oaths. The American Board of Trial Advocates lists bars that have included civility oaths. Since the list’s publication, Arkansas has also included a civility pledge in its Attorney Oath of Admissions.

And in case you’re wondering whether such a civility oath violates the First Amendment, at least one court has said no. In the case In re Anonymous Member of the South Carolina Bar, 392 S.C. 328 (S.C. 2011), the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against the respondent’s challenge to the constitutionality of such a pledge.

Pleaded or Pled? A quick look at the numbers

There’s been a lot of discussion on legal blogs and news sites over the last week or so about the correct past-tense form of plead, probably spurred by this article on LTN. Does proper style mandate pleaded, and is it ever acceptable to use pled? There are good arguments on both sides, to be sure, but there’s plenty of that on the internet as it is, and we won’t expound on that here.

Having access to good search tools and a massive database, though, we can put all the bickering and pedantry aside and get a pretty good picture of how these contentious verb forms are actually used in the real world. And what the numbers tell us is pretty interesting.

It turns out pleaded is the clear favorite, mentioned in more than twice as many cases as pled. Different jurisdictions, though, vary fairly widely in their usages of the two words. Of the cases that include either of the words in question, the Federal Seventh Circuit uses pled in only 26 percent, whereas the Fourth Circuit uses it in 59 percent of its cases. The US Supreme Court is by far the most consistent, using pleaded almost 100 times more often than pled.

Just like the federal courts, the states seem to have their own conventions on word choice. Idaho, the most pled-friendly state, uses the word more than twice as often as pleaded, but Massachusetts prefers pleaded by an eighteen-to-one margin.

The two things that seem to make the biggest difference overall are geography and time. A quick check with Fastcase’s interactive timeline shows that there has been a steady trend toward pled in the last 25 years or so, while pleaded has stayed relatively steady.

The three states with the greatest proportion of pled cases (Idaho, Montana, and Arizona) are, interestingly enough, all western states. The three states most adherent to the style manuals prescribing pleaded (Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) are all located in New England.

A poll posted on the ABA Journal last week shows that 69 percent of respondents preferred pled to pleaded, but so far it looks like legal opinions haven’t caught up to public opinion.

Giving a whole new meaning to “deskbooks”

Despite the popularity of online legal research, we still believe in the beauty and power of the casebook! Perkins Coie LLP recently remodeled its Seattle office and repurposed some of its print books into an amazing reference desk. We often think of case law as a pillar of the American legal system but this wonderful piece of art really brings that concept to life by using the books as the “structural and conceptual building blocks” of the desk.

Read more about the desk at the American Association of Law Libraries Spectrum blog and view more pictures of the books at the artist’s website.

MLK Day holiday

Fastcase customer support will be closed in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and regular hours will resume on Tuesday the 21st.

Holiday Customer Service Hours

From our whole team in Washington D.C., we’d like to wish you and your family a warm season’s greeting. If you find yourself doing some research over the next couple weeks, please note our holiday customer support hours:

Monday, December 24th: 8am-5pm Eastern

Tuesday, December 25th: Closed

Wednesday, December 26th: 8am-8pm Eastern (normal customer support hours)

Monday, December 31st: 8am-5pm Eastern

Tuesday, January 1st: Closed

Wednesday, January 2nd: 8am-8pm Eastern (normal customer support hours)

Have a wonderful holiday, and happy new year!