Relax with our favorite long reads of 2018

ABA Journal

Throughout the year, the ABA Journal publishes in-depth features on the business of the legal profession, developments in the law, lives that have been impacted by the justice system, and the ways pop culture influences—and is influenced by—the law. What follows are some of our favorite features from 2018.

Some are on serious topics, like how courts are dealing with the opioid crisis and how unscrupulous notarios are taking advantage of panicked people in need of immigration legal services. Others are lighter, like the top 25 greatest legal movies and an explanation of why you can buy a bobblehead of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We hope you enjoy curling up with these long reads.

Opioids, justice & mercy: Courts are on the front lines of a lethal crisis, by Liane Jackson

Opiods, Justice & MercyPhotograph by Rebecca Sell

It’s not every day that a criminal defendant hugs a judge. But in courts across the country, these are unusual times.

A judicial embrace is a hard-won moment of congratulations for people with addictions graduating from the Cuyahoga County Drug Court in Cleveland. After more than a year in the diversion program—battling addictions, fighting demons and reclaiming life—hugs and tears are inevitable as participants cross a sobriety threshold most never thought possible.

“It’s been an absolute ride, this drug court,” said one new graduate. “I was always a quitter, and today I choose to be a fighter. If you have the will, you can overcome anything.”

The cycle of overdose, arrest, jail and rehab has been difficult to crack as the opioid crisis scales up and out, consuming communities. But court diversion programs such as the one helmed by Judge David Matia are expanding, and the arbiter behind the bench has increasingly become an advocate on the sidelines. Local courts are pivoting from crime and punishment to carrot-and-stick—using more humane, interventional approaches to deal with the defendants with addictions who are overwhelming their dockets. Read more »

The Chicago police legacy of extracting false confessions is costing the city millions, by Kevin Davis

Chair in a room

Once again, the city is on the defensive, accused of allowing detectives to obtain false confessions through bullying and intimidation, an allegation that’s hardly new for Chicago. But it continues to haunt the city—while taxpayers foot the bills for misdeeds of the past. Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project in New York City, appeared on 60 Minutes in 2012, calling Chicago the capital of false confessions.

“Quite simply, what Cooperstown is to baseball Chicago is to false confessions,” he said. “It is the hall of fame.”

Six years later, little has changed. Of the 29 wrongful conviction rulings involving false confessions in the United States in 2017, 13 were in Cook County, where the court system covers Chicago, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Of the more than 260 false confession cases recorded since the registry began counting in 1989, about 25 percent have come from Cook County. Read more »

Increased enforcement of immigration laws raises scam risk, by Lorelei Laird

Legal Prey

Fraud targeting immigrants did not begin with the Trump administration; advocates say it’s constant and pervasive. But the administration’s aggressive approach to immigration law enforcement is driving up interest in legal services, they say. And some subset of those immigrants looking for help will end up trusting the wrong people.

“I think always when people are afraid, they may go out looking to see if there’s anything they can do about their case,” says Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy for the New York Immigration Coalition. “There are more people who are going to try to prey on that.” Read more »

Justice, mercy and redemption: Bryan Stevenson’s death row advocacy, by Darlene Ricker

Justice, Mercy & Redemption
Photograph of Bryan Stevenson by Equal Justice Initiative

There’s a saying in the criminal defense bar: There’s nothing more frightening than having an innocent client.

Judging by that standard, you’d think Bryan Stevenson must have been scared out of his wits for the last three decades—but no. It takes a lot to rattle the Harvard-educated attorney, 58, who has won relief for more than 125 people on death row. Success has meant getting a new trial, a reduced sentence or, best of all, complete exoneration. In the latter case the client walks out of prison, sometimes after decades of incarceration, for a crime they did not commit. Invariably they find Stevenson waiting outside the prison gate with arms outstretched. Read more »

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an unlikely pop culture icon, by Stephanie Francis Ward

Ruth Bader Ginsburg products
Photos by Monique Karlov, Foxy Mug, Squirrel Den Studio, Brittney Boe,, Sudie’s Corner, Jittermug, Kateen Thiry, Starkleshop, Abbie Briggs,, Maggie Stern, The Eternal Flame.

There is a music album inspired by her life story. There are websites and memes that celebrate her jurisprudence, her fiery dissents and her dedication to civil rights, gender equality and social justice. There’s even a recent documentary and a Hollywood film chronicling her long and storied career as a litigator fighting on behalf of gender equality.

That tireless devotion to doing what she believes is right is one reason why Ginsburg has emerged as an unlikely pop culture icon. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who became only the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, has built a career overcoming the odds. Prior to becoming a federal judge, she argued six gender discrimination cases before the high court, winning five. Much like her celebrated predecessor on the Supreme Court, Justice Thurgood Marshall, Ginsburg’s litigation success and subsequent judicial career has led to her being perceived as a civil rights icon. That she has crossed over into the mainstream says a lot about where this country is today, as well as what kind of heroes people are looking for. Read more »

The 25 greatest legal movies, by Kevin Davis

Law at the Movies
Illustration by Matt Mahurin

Ten years ago, the ABA Journal published a cover story called “The 25 Greatest Legal Movies,” a roster of top-notch legal-themed films drawn from a panel of judges that included lawyers, law professors and, yes, an actual judge. We wanted to update the list this year and decided to broaden the scope to consider films that tell stories outside the typical courtroom drama—films that examine how the legal system intersects with our lives in different ways. Read more »

Millennial lawyers are forging their own paths—and it’s wrong to call them lazy, by Kate Rockwood

Graphic of people with lightbulbs for heads
Photo illustration by Brenan Sharp

As younger attorneys flood the workforce and begin replacing the retiring baby boomer ranks, even the most conservative law firms are realizing the need to reshape corporate culture and embrace millennials’ tech-savvy, self-confident and flexible point of view. Older lawyers are realizing that younger attorneys won’t accept the rigid hierarchies and old-fashioned processes that defined their own careers. At the same time, millennials also won’t receive the same mind-boggling hourly rates that clients formerly paid without batting an eye. With all these changes, experts say firms may need to invest time and resources in helping a multigenerational workforce interact effectively. Read more »

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Meet 8 ABA members who inspired us in 2018

Members Who Inspire

Illustration by Sara Wadford.

The ABA Journal launched the Members Who Inspire column in 2017 to highlight ABA members who are doing important and interesting things in their personal and professional lives.

This year, the eight members we profiled have been fighting for immigrants, human trafficking survivors, criminal defendants, at-risk children, legal aid organizations, amateur athletes—and their fellow attorneys.

• Source of Solace: Off the bench, federal judge dedicates time to helping others

U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey co-founded SOLACE more than 15 years ago. Support of Lawyers/Legal Personnel—All Concern Encouraged members try to help others in the legal community and their families in times of need.

• Olympic medal-winning attorney fights sexual abuse and discrimination in athletics

Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar backed a new law that requires Olympic governing bodies to try to prevent the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of amateur athletes.

• Showrunners: Couple’s friendly fundraising competition launches marathon event

Lawyers Crystal and Michael Freed organized marathons and other events to raise money for legal aid and awareness of human trafficking.

• California attorney devotes his career to helping children navigate immigration courts


Martin Gauto, a senior attorney for Clinic (the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.) in Los Angeles, has represented hundreds of immigrant children who were apprehended at the U.S. border after fleeing abusive situations in countries such as Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

• San Diego clinic founder helps human trafficking victims rebuild their lives

As founder and president of the Free to Thrive legal clinic in San Diego, Jamie Quient uses her networking skills to get her clients access to safe housing, drug treatment programs and job training.

• Former prosecutor advocates for criminal justice reform

As deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, Melba Pearson approaches criminal justice issues with the eye of a prosecutor and the heart of a civil liberties activist.

• Advocating for at-risk children is Richard Hooks Wayman’s mission

Richard Hooks Wayman is national executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. The privately financed nonprofit promotes medical care, education, housing, nutrition and safety for children, particularly the 13 million who live in poverty.

Members Who Inspire is an ABA Journal series profiling exceptional ABA members. If you know members who do unique and important work, you can nominate them for this series by emailing

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Listen to our 10 favorite podcast episodes of 2018

ABA Journal Podcasts


Looking for a new listen? We’ve picked three of our favorite 2018 episodes from each of the ABA Journal’s three podcasts, plus an episode from our special series from 2018, Asked and Answered: Lived and Learned.

And if this whets your appetite, you can find more than eight years of past episodes on our podcast page or your favorite podcast listening service.

Asked and Answered

• Loving life as a lawyer: How to maintain joy in your work

Do you dread going to work? If so, maybe it’s time to look at the other ways you can flex your legal skills, Nancy Levit says. There are many types of jobs for lawyers, and sometimes what you thought you wanted to do doesn’t work out, Levit tells the ABA Journal’s Stephanie Francis Ward in this episode of Asked and Answered. Levit shares tips on how to find the work you want to do and how to find joy in the work you’re already doing.

• Halting the hover: Dealing with helicopter parents in law school

As an associate dean of the University of Houston Law Center, Sondra Tennessee has witnessed her share of helicopter parents. She’s seen parents ask law schools to switch their child’s professor because they didn’t think he or she was a good fit. Tennessee shares how students, parents and school administrators can halt the hover and foster students’ independence and success.

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Asked and Answered interviews experts to offer tips and advice for lawyers’ lives. Subscribe and never miss an episode.
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• Mounting a defense: Security expert shares tips on avoiding violence

One of many lawyers’ worst fears is that a client, opposing party or even a random stranger may try to physically hurt them, often for nothing more than the attorney doing his or her job. In this episode of the ABA Journal’s Asked and Answered, Stephanie Francis Ward speaks with Ty Smith, a retired Navy SEAL who founded Vigilance Risk Solutions, a security consulting business that focuses on workplace violence prevention.

Asked and Answered: Lived and Learned

• Present as your true self, says Mia Yamamoto

Criminal defense attorney Mia Yamamoto says she made her decision to publicly transition genders in 2003 at age 60 because she was tired of being a “phony.”

“In that moment I remember thinking, you know, I can’t live a completely false life,” says Yamamoto, who was born in a Japanese-American internment camp in 1943 and served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. “I refuse to do that.”

Legal Rebels Podcast

Tech is not the only answer to legal aid issues, justice center director Joyce Raby says

Since the late 1990s, Joyce Raby has spent a career bringing technology to legal aid. While a booster and believer in technology’s potential to improve America’s legal system, her experience is tempering. “We’ve been saying for a very long time that technology was going to be the saving grace for the justice ecosystem,” says Raby, executive director of the Florida Justice Technology Center. “I don’t think it is.”

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The Legal Rebels Podcast speaks with trailblazers and explores legal tech trends. Subscribe and never miss an episode.
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• Robert Litt has been out front on online threats for decades

Robert Litt has confronted cybersecurity and encryption issues for two presidential administrations. With Russian interference in the 2016 election as a backdrop, Litt, an ABA Journal Legal Rebels Trailblazer, says the U.S. has been facing online threats essentially since the internet’s creation.

• LawPay founder and former cheerleader Amy Porter focuses on what lawyers need

When Amy Porter founded the online payment platform AffiniPay, she drew on her experience as a college athlete—cheerleading while majoring in merchandising at the University of Texas at Austin—which led to work as a sales representative with the athletic clothing company Varsity Brands.

The Modern Law Library

• How Anthony Comstock’s anti-obscenity crusade changed American law

For decades, special agent of the U.S. Post Office Department named Anthony Comstock was the sole arbiter in the United States of what was obscene—and his definition was expansive, encompassing not just images we’d recognize as pornography today, but also anatomy textbooks, pamphlets about birth control and the plays of George Bernard Shaw. In Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock, author Amy Werbel explains how Comstock’s religious fervor and backing by wealthy New York society members led to a raft of harsh federal and state censorship laws—and how the backlash to Comstock’s actions helped create a new civil liberties movement among defense lawyers.

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The Modern Law Library showcases books and authors with a legal connection. Subscribe and never miss an episode.
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• Dark tale of ‘The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist’ brings false convictions to light

For nearly two decades, Dr. Steven Hayne and Dr. Michael West were the go-to experts who Mississippi law enforcement and prosecutors relied on when there was a potential homicide. Hayne performed the bulk of the autopsies in the state, while West was a dentist who touted his skill in bite-mark analysis and his pioneering use of UV light on human skin to detect trace markings he claimed he could match to objects. But after years of investigations and countless testimonies from the men, their claims of expertise began to fall apart—and wrongful convictions began coming to light. In The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South, authors Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington lay out what happened.

• Bryan Garner reflects on his friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia in ‘Nino and Me’

To Bryan Garner, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, Justice Antonin Scalia was a friend, a mentor, a collaborator and a fellow lover of words. In the wake of Scalia’s death on Feb. 13, 2016, Garner reflected back over their relationship, from their first brief introduction in 1988 to the trip they took to Asia together in the last weeks of Scalia’s life. Those reflections turned into his latest book, Nino and Me: My Unusual Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia.

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12 of the most fascinating lawyers of 2018

10 Questions

12 lawyers answer 10 questions.

The ABA Journal’s 10 Questions column is a Q&A in which Jenny B. Davis speaks to legal professionals with unique careers or personal histories. Check out some of our favorite questions and answers from 2018, and click to learn more about these fascinating people.

Marcia Lynn Sells: Harvard Law’s dean of students began as a ballerina

Marcia Lynn Sells. Photos courtesy of Harvard Law School

Q. You danced professionally with the Dance Theatre of Harlem for four years but left it behind to go to college and law school. How did you make that transition and why?

A. There was a moment when the film The Wiz was filming, and a number of Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers were performing in it, and the company went on hiatus. During that time, I had applied to Barnard College and had deferred. I come from a family of educators—everyone has a college degree. My mother said, “Maybe you should just call Barnard and say you’ll be around for a bit, and then if the company starts again, you can work your schedule around it.” I started at Barnard and fell in love with the school. When the company started back up again, I decided not to go back. After graduation, I went straight to law school. No one in my family was in the theater—my parents’ friends were all teachers, lawyers, doctors and educators, so it wasn’t a foreign thing for me to think about.

Adrian E. Miller
Adrian E. Miller. Photo by Bernard Grant

Adrian E. Miller: This Denver lawyer serves up culinary history with a side of social justice

Q. Were there instances where public policy influence came from the [White House] kitchen?

A. Yes, and the best example is Lyndon Johnson with his longtime cook, Zephyr Wright. The Johnsons would drive back and forth from their Texas ranch to the White House, and while they were driving through the Jim Crow South, Wright suffered so many indignities that she stopped traveling with them and stayed in D.C. When President Johnson personally lobbied for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he used the experiences of Zephyr Wright to convince members of Congress to support the bill. When he signed the bill, he actually gave her one of the pens and said, “You deserve this more than anyone else.”

Abby Abinanti
Photo courtesy of Abby Abinanti

Abby Abinanti: Native American judge devotes legal career to restorative justice

Q. I know you’re active in initiatives to help Native American students go to law school and helping to train people to become tribal court judges. Do you think it’s important that tribal court judges are themselves Native American?

A. That’s every tribe’s call—what they want to do. It’s helped me. People said, “You can’t be a judge because you know everyone.” I said, “You’ve seen too much TV.” That’s true of their system, but not our system. Before the invasion, who did we turn to to solve problems? Older people in the village. Let’s take that practice and modernize it. We’ll change our practices, but not our values. If your value is harmony, and you want to make this right, then it’s a big plus to know the people. It’s a small community, and I am in the community. And they know I am. I can say to someone, “I heard this, I know it’s true and I don’t like it,” and they know it’s true. It’s like being someone’s aunt: You can get in their face, in the modern vernacular.

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

Yvonne Brathwaite Burke: LA lawyer and former congresswoman blazed a trail for women and minorities

Q. What sparked that initial drive to be a lawyer?

A. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, Asians couldn’t own property, and in many areas of LA, African-Americans couldn’t buy property. You couldn’t buy homes. I was very aware of this, and my mother was aware of it. There were actually covenants in the deeds that said “This property can only be occupied by someone of the Caucasian race,” and this prevented us from moving. We lived in a not-so-desirable area and the schools were not great, and we wanted to move. Then there was a case in the U.S. Supreme Court [Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)]. Loren Miller was the attorney, and he was able to set aside these restrictive covenants. I think every African-American in the U.S. was aware of this decision. I happened to know his nephew; and when I was 15, I was invited to a birthday party at his nephew’s house. I saw his uncle sitting in a library surrounded by all these books and I said, “That’s going to be me.” And I never looked back. I had already said, “I am going to be like Loren Miller and have all these important cases,” but when I saw him and those books, I knew there was nothing that was going to keep me from going to law school.

Photos courtesy of Isaac Shapiro

Isaac “Ike” Shapiro: Lawyer’s memoir recalls growing up Jewish in Japan during WWII

Q. How did you connect with the U.S. military?

A. It was late August 1945, and I knew the American troops were landing. I wanted to see it, so I literally ran away from home. I told my parents I was going out to buy some food, and I went down to Yokohama. As I was going home, American naval officers picked me up off the street and took me to their ship. I became acquainted with a Marine colonel, and he took an interest in me and hired me to be a translator and a driver in Yokosuka at the naval air base, which he commanded. When he was leaving in 1946, he asked if I wanted to come to the United States. He and his wife didn’t have any children, so I went to live with them in Hawaii.

Ben Schatz. Photo by Robin McEntire

Ben Schatz: Activist-turned-drag queen builds successful careers in law and the arts

Q. But you chose activism over show business.

A. Even as an activist, I was very conscious of the fact that I was playing a role. I was very involved in public policy—I became a so-called expert on AIDS and insurance. And I would do up to 10 press interviews a day. I’d go to work in jeans, and I’d put on my suit and tie to do my best to sound reasonable in the face of hysteria. It was acting even then.

Lawyers dressed as Tarzan and JaneLaw partners Lauren Kruskall and Tristen Woods. Photo courtesy of Jungle Law Group

Lauren Kruskall and Tristen Woods: This legal team brings a wild approach to their practice

Q. You guys are huge animal lovers, and from the start, you knew that you wanted to create a firm that blended animal advocacy with civil and criminal work for humans. Tell me about that decision.

TW: I’ve been practicing law for several years, and I also have an LLM degree in human rights. I wanted to translate that into animal rights law.

LK: We’ve always done pro bono work with animals. At first, we thought the animal aspect of our firm would just be advertising and continued volunteering, but it has naturally evolved into an area of our legal practice. As attorneys we are advocates, so we are especially thrilled to provide a voice for animals—who often don’t get one.

Photo courtesy of Charles Soule

Charles Soule: A true Marvel, this Brooklyn lawyer is a force across a galaxy of comic book genres

Q. Is it hard to get into the mind of a really evil character like Darth Vader?

A. My Darth Vader run began at the moment he gets into his dark suit of armor, when he becomes the evil half-robot killer we’re all familiar with. At this point, though, he is not a seasoned cyborg—he just lost his wife, his best friend, the Jedi Order and most of his limbs. He has a lot to learn. When I took the gig, I knew I would be putting myself in the mindset of someone who is constantly in pain and enraged. I was nervous about steeping myself in that for months on end, but that’s the job of a professional freelance writer. One day, I’m writing a light and funny She-Hulk scene, and the next, Darth Vader is methodically murdering most of a planetary population.

Mitra Shahri. Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Equal Justice

Mitra Shahri: Comedian and Oregon lawyer stands up against sexual harassment

Q. Do you ever incorporate humor into your law practice?

A. It really incorporates itself. When you go against rich and powerful offenders, you bring on the wrath of several big law firms. The only way to survive their legal tag-teaming is to have your wits about you. Early in my practice I learned that my Order of the Coif, law review and moot court certificates did not sway the mentality of opposing counsel who only saw me as a young, weak minority female and an easy target to demean and intimidate. The joke was on them, however, because my strong, kick-ass, take-no-prisoner side slayed their clients’ reputations and dipped deep in their coffers.

My first case was against a lawyer I idolized. He called to discuss the case and began with insulting my legal ability and intelligence. He laughed at my client, whom he called average looking, for claiming sexual harassment against his rich client. He then attempted to get me to accept his $5,000 settlement, which he claimed was enough fees to pay my rent and buy me a nice pair of shoes.

When he finished, all I said was “OMG, I have to go because I just realized that my toenail polish doesn’t match my outfit!” and I hung up. Fast-forward, we settled the case for mid-six figures, and he later told me he often calls young lawyers to intimidate them. But when I hung up on him, I really got under his skin.

Danielle Ponder. Photo by Devon Mack

Danielle Ponder: From courtroom to concert stage, this criminal defense lawyer uses her voice to push for reform

Q. Now that you’re an established performer, have you ever been tempted to think, “I should have just skipped law school and gone directly into music?”

A. No, I needed to be inside the system in order to come out of the system and bear witness. I am 100 percent certain that what I saw at the PD’s office had to be part of my musical journey, so I can say, “This is what’s happening,” and say it in a way that people can feel it, to say it as an artist. And I needed to learn the skill set to make my music business lucrative.

My dad was an entrepreneur, and there were years when we were going to Disney World and years where we struggled to keep the lights on. The instability always scared me. Now I can have a solo practice and do music. I also work as an adjunct professor and professional speaker.

Ramsey Clark in 1968. Courtesy of Joseph Stillman / Citizen Clark … A Life of Principle

Ramsey Clark: 70 years of political and legal activism

Q. As the son of former Attorney General and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, you’ve been around justice systems your entire life. You’ve also had a long history witnessing the horrors and devastation of war, beginning when you joined the Marines at age 17 and worked as a courier during the Nuremberg trials. Do you feel it’s America’s responsibility to promote peace and justice in the world?

A. I do. If we are not the luckiest ones on earth, we are certainly high on the list, and out of gratitude, we ought to seek to share it with those who weren’t so fortunate. The temptation is to condemn them for their failure—what’s the matter with those people?—while you tee off another round of golf at the club. But we haven’t walked 1,000 miles in their moccasins, so we have no basis for condemning them. We are people who care about humanity. We need to see that if they’re deprived or suffering, we must seek to address it and overcome it. It’s the highest calling, reaching out to those who are needy.

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Are you a true word nerd? Test yourself with these 3 quizzes by Bryan Garner

Bryan Garner on Words

Bryan Garner

Photo of Bryan Garner by Winn Fuqua Photography.

The “Bryan Garner on Words” column is a perennial favorite of ABA Journal readers. In 2018, Garner wrote three quizzes to test readers’ knowledge of word usage and pronunciation. Can you pass all three and prove yourself a true snoot?

Our shifting meanings: Test your knowledge of modern usage

“In each question that follows, one choice is a misusage that wouldn’t pass muster with a good copy editor. See whether you can recognize the traditionally correct forms.”

How do you say it? Try this quiz to evaluate your pronunciation skills

“Over time, words can change in spelling, meaning and pronunciation. In this quiz, choose the pronunciation favored in the late 19th century through the 20th.”

Law review editors missed a few, so we have this usage skills quiz for you

“Law review editors do their best to comply with prevailing literary usage. In this quiz, the language hasn’t yet come close to accepting the ‘incorrect’ choices as standard written English.”

Bryan A. Garner, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and author of many books on advocacy and legal drafting, is the distinguished research professor of law at Southern Methodist University. His most recent book is Nino and Me: My Unusual Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. Follow on Twitter @bryanagarner.

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