For some reason, many lawyers use Latin words or phrases to improve their legal writing, perhaps thinking it will impress their readers. However, this often has the opposite effect. Using archaic and unusual Latin not only makes your writing less clear, but you`re also more likely to make a grammatical mistake when using Latin.1 For these reasons, the use of simple English is usually superior.2 The only exception is for Latin words or phrases that have a particular legal meaning and no appropriate English equivalent. Such as “See say”, “habeas corpus” and “ex parte”. 3 In all other cases, use English instead of Latin. Once you have determined that the use of Latin is appropriate, decide whether you want to italicize the word or phrase.4 It is a common misconception to believe that a word or phrase should be italicized because it is Latin. On the contrary, Bluebook Rule 7(b) states that “Latin words and phrases commonly used in legal literature should be considered in common use in English and should not be italicized.5 However, very long Latin phrases and obsolete or unusual Latin words and phrases should remain in italics.” It also includes some examples of Latin words and phrases that are “often used in legal drafting.” 6 To determine whether a Latin word or phrase that does not appear in Rule 7(b) is “frequently used in the literature” or “obsolete or unusual” without making an arbitrary decision itself, see the latest edition of Black`s Law Dictionary.7 For simplicity, the following tables, which are not exhaustive, contain the examples given in Rule 7(b) and others: Examples not listed in Rule 7(b): as described in Black`s Law Dictionary (10th edition 2014).8 The purpose of this article is to briefly educate readers on the appropriate use of Latin words or phrases in legal writing. It addresses two common misconceptions about when and how to use a Latin word or phrase. While the following rules and tips are particularly useful for appellate practitioners, they apply to all legal writing. Adam M. Hapner graduated from the University of Florida`s Levin College of Law in 2014 and is currently a law clerk to the Honorable Patrick M.
Hunt of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.