There are approximately 1.4 million licensed lawyers in the United States versus 250 million adults. As a legal marketer I am often called upon to edit lawyered-authored materials for a non-lawyer audience and mediums other than legal briefs. In other words, for the other 248.6 million adults. Needless to say, the editing process can become a very sensitive conversations between lawyer and marketer.
At a prior firm, I got into a very heated conversation with a partner as to why his 50 to 100-word paragraphs did not translate well into a blog post. I tried to explain that online “walls of text” were difficult to read, and he needed to limit himself to one to two sentences per “paragraph.” He refused to budge and it really impacted our relationship.
Another partner and I got into the whole “period-space” versus “period-space-space” controversy a couple years ago. After some heated debate (yelling) in the hallway, I went and sourced it for him. While he didn’t like it, he agreed and period-space became the rule of grammar in our firm’s marketing materials (see Oh, Brother. The Period Space v. Space Space debate. Again.).
Blame it on The Blue Book
So why the controversy and angst? Blame it on The Blue Book.
For the general population, this is what we consider a Blue Book:
For lawyers, this is what they consider The Bluebook:
Ahhhhh. There’s the problem.
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Legal Citation (r) is a guide for legal citation to be used in a legal context or for a legal audience:
Generations of law students, lawyers, scholars, judges, and other legal professionals have relied on The Bluebook‘s unique system of citation in their writing. In a diverse and rapidly changing legal profession, The Bluebook continues to provide a systematic method by which members of the profession communicate important information to one another about the sources and legal authorities upon which they rely in their work.
For the rest of us, we rely upon the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), or the AP Stylebook.
Chicago Manual of Style versus The AP Styleguide
The Chicago Manual of Style, is the definitive guide for authors, while the AP Stylebook is relied upon by journalists.
I have found over the years that when editing, when I come into conflict with an attorney, it is because they are relying upon The Bluebook and I am relying upon the AP Styleguide.
I will say, in the great period-space v. period-space-space debate, even The Bluebook is giving in. In true lawyer form, they are officially silent on the issue–which means go forth and rely upon CMOS or AP Styleguide–however, they themselves use a period-space format, leaving the final answer to each individual court to decide.
So my suggestion, pick a style guide and be consistent. For the most part, I defer to The AP Styleguide (although I have been converted to the Oxford comma). I do understand the purpose of the CMOS, but considering the materials the marketing department writes and produces, the conciseness of the AP Styleguide works better for me.
I hope we can all get to the point where we can agree that The Bluebook is never appropriate for a document written and produced for the general public, even if that general public includes lawyers. As we are in the process of rewriting all of our firm’s content, we will be able ensure that there is consistency within all of our collateral, and where there might be conflict between the multitude of guides, the firm (lower case) will have our own style guide as well.