Monday, November 21, 2005
Everyone who teaches legal writing should know about the case of Mylward v. Weldon, decided on February 15, 1596. (No, that date is not a typo.) This is a famous English case in which the plaintiff submitted a document to the court that was "six score sheets of paper" long, "yet all the matter thereof which is pertinent might have been well contrived in sixteen sheets of paper."
The court's response to this unnecessary verbosity:
"[I]t is therefore ordered, that the Warden of the Fleet shall take the said Richard Mylward, alias Alexander, into his custody, and shall bring him into Westminster Hall, on Saturday next, about ten of the clock in the forenoon, and then and there shall cut a hole in the myddest of the same engrossed replication (which is delivered unto him for that purpose), and put the said Richard's head through the same hole, and let the same replication hang about his shoulders, with the written side outward; and then, the same so hanging, shall lead the same Richard, bare headed and bare faced, round about Westminster Hall, whilst the Courts are sitting, and shall shew him at the bar of every of the three Courts within the Hall, ...."
This is a good case to use to persuade legal writing students that judges do take brevity seriously, and they have done so for over four centuries. You can find the complete text in a facsimile at: http://www.languageandlaw.org/TEXTS/CASES/MILWARD.HTM (spl)