Don’t Make This $10m Mistake
Writers frequently wonder whether a comma should go before “and” or “or” in a series of three or more words —known as the serial (or Oxford) or comma. The Oxford comma lends clarity in legal writing, whether it be in contract drafting, will drafting or litigation documents. For example, take the sentence: “I bequeath the residue of my estate to my children, Mary, John and Jack”. Do the 3 children take equal shares? Or can Mary make an argument that she is entitled to half while her brothers split the remaining half? Without the Oxford comma it is ambiguous. This First Circuit opinion in a labor dispute is a great example of how, without the oxford/serial comma, damages can be extraordinary. The opinion starts with “[f]or want of a comma, we have this case”. The First Circuit then determined “[because] there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the [employees] fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not”, the employees were entitled to damages estimated at $10m (the case thereafter settled for $5m). To avoid this mistake, and other pitfalls, outsource your legal writing to an experienced legal writing attorney. It will increase your client’s likelihood of success while also allowing you to grow your firm and increase your profit margin.