Clarity in Legal Writing

Why do lawyers start most pleadings with “COMES NOW”?

If we follow Strunk & White, we will avoid needless words.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” -Thomas Jefferson

4 thoughts on “Clarity in Legal Writing

  1. I think that when “Comes now” arose, that verbose and indirect style was considered a means of showing due respect to the court.

    Now our concepts of respect in the United States have evolved to place a greater priority on using the reader’s time efficiently, but nobody quite feels comfortable changing how they write pleadings yet. We feel safe copying what we’re used to seeing, because if a question of malpractice arises we at least have the defense that it was good enough for everyone we learned it from.

  2. Because:

    1. the older lawyers we first dealt with did it that way;
    2. we were indoctrinated in law school to sound “professional,” which we took to mean overly formal and verbose; and
    3. everyone is afraid (consciously or not) that violating the tradition will alienate the judge to whom it is directed.

  3. One of my most unpleasant law school experiences, circa 1978, was when I handed in a pleading for a federal procedure class that George Cochran briefly taught. I used a pleading in my father’s law office to go by. It began “Comes Now.” In class, I get this: “Freeland! What is this “comes now?” Why did you use that? I explained how I got something to go by. Cochran said, something to the effect that the fact that it was in some old form was no reason to use it. Then: What does it mean? me: [attempt to explain] Cochran: If you don’t know what it means, why did you put it in there?

    I have tried to do everything to eradicate it since.

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