January 01, 2013

On the Papers: Who Done It? Controlling Agency in Legal Writing—Part I

A discussion of how to direct an audience’s perception of who did what at the level of sentences and clauses.

George D. Gopen

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When Agatha Christie writes an engaging mystery, the question of agency is so compelling that we refer to the book as a “Who Done It?”. Where agency is concerned, the aim of a legal brief should be quite the opposite—not to mystify, but rather to clarify. It is probably obvious that the macro-issues of who was responsible for doing the major actions in a case must be attended to with energy and care. It may be far less clear how important the question of agency is in every clause of every sentence. This article begins a discussion of how to control a reader’s perception—or non-perception—of agency at the micro-level of clauses and sentences.

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