Thursday, April 7, 2016
On March 31, George Mason University School of Law announced that it will be renamed in honor of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. According to a recent article in The National Law Journal by Tony Mauro, the announcement of the school's new name--the Antonin Scalia School of Law--and the possible acronyms stemming from that name set Twitter "abuzz." Mauro notes, however, that Justice Scalia was known for his dislike of acronyms, and he cautioned lawyers against using them in brief. George Mason will certainly want to avoid some of the acronyms associated with their new name as well!
On a more serious note, the issue of acronyms in appellate briefs is definitely a problem. Last April, The National Law Journal published another story about acronyms--this time reporting on a letter from the clerk's office for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit directing lawyers in a campaign finance case to make sure that "'avoid using acronyms that are not widely known.'" When I grade student briefs I am also frustrated by the use of acronyms. They cause me to pause and translate what the jumble of letters means, which interrupts the flow of the argument and makes the argument less persuasive. Acronyms can also reduce the emotional appeal of your brief by taking the focus off key terms. For example, "hate crime prevention act" has much more of an emotional appeal than HCPA. If you want to focus on the hateful, discriminatory nature of a crime committed, you are much better to write the term "hate crime," which brings the judge back to the purpose of the statute and its connection to the crime committed.
So, while Justice Scalia's legacy will live on in the newly named law school, let the school's acronym problem help us remember the excellent legal writing tips that Justice Scalia has given us--including avoiding acronyms!