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January|February 2003
Almost Infamous By John Swansburg
A Lawyer's Limits By Jonathan L. Hafetz
Block Sender By Beth Taylor
Lone Star By Jordan Smith
Neolawisms By Adam Hanft
Off Target By James B. Jacobs
New War, Old Law By Stéphanie Giry


Legal language seems to rest on archaisms like "hereinafter." But there are some worthy recent additions to legalese—and others are coming soon.

By Adam Hanft

Death Tax Attorney. A lawyer who specializes in intrafamily estate disputes. As baby boomers continue to benefit from a $3 trillion transfer of wealth from their parents, more and more siblings are finding themselves coaxed out of grief by greed. Rising to the occasion is a sliver of attorneys with a particular expertise in fighting over disputed patrimonies—and keeping the government's hand out of the till.

Lawyer Up. To retain counsel. The term was popularized by the fictional detectives of ABC's NYPD Blue, who lament when suspects ruin the fun of an interrogation by "lawyering up." The phrase has recently entered journalistic usage as well. Last April, John Derbyshire of National Review worried that John Walker Lindh would be difficult to prosecute because he was "well lawyered up." (Lindh eventually copped a plea.) In October, The Boston Herald called Bernard Law, the embattled leader of the Catholic archdiocese, the "lawyered-up Cardinal."

Little Brother. A tiny camera in an ATM, behind a department store mirror, or in your doctor's waiting room. Walk down the street in any major city and chances are good—and getting better—that you're being recorded, thanks to a post-Orwellian trifecta of inexpensive video technology, heightened security, and enduring voyeurism.

Person of Interest. A suspect in all but name. In October, when John Allen Mohammed and John Lee Malvo were detained in connection with the string of shootings in and around the nation's capital, cautious authorities referred to them as "persons of interest" until they were formally charged. Commenting on the two men, a federal law-enforcement official defined the phrase perfectly: "We're not ready to call them suspects," he said, "but we suspect them."

The term has a clear strategic purpose: It trumpets law-enforcement success, while sidestepping the hurdle of obtaining an indictment or even showing probable cause for seeking one. It also allows law- enforcement authorities to investigate individuals exhaustively without granting them the legal rights of the accused.

The "person of interest" par excellence remains Richard Jewell, who was targeted by the FBI as a suspect in the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. He was hounded by the media until he was cleared of any involvement—88 days after he was first implicated.

Plaintiff Surfing. The act of assembling a class-action lawsuit online. Unlike their unplugged counterparts, who have to rely on mass mailings and advertising, web-savvy attorneys can swell the size of their class by listing their suit on one of a handful of websites that publicize class actions. "Last year alone," boasts, "hundreds of millions of dollars reverted back to companies.... We offer you a convenient empowering alternative."

Pop-up Parasite. An ad designed to poach customers from another company's website. Twenty million Americans have downloaded software called Gator, which makes web life easier by allowing users to enter commonly requested information, like a shipping address or a password, with a single click. In return for the software's services, users agree to receive online advertising, through what Gator innocuously calls "OfferCompanion." In practice, that means that someone who visits The Wall Street Journal Online could be greeted by a pop-up ad paid for by its competitor, The New York Times—and supplied by Gator. A lawsuit brought by Ford, UPS, and others argued that Gator violates copyright and trademark laws by placing ads on web space owned by their companies. Last July, a judge issued a temporary injunction barring Gator from displaying ads on the plaintiffs' websites.

Soxley. A recent conflation of the clunkily titled Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The term is gaining currency with securities attorneys, according to Martin Nussbaum, a corporate attorney at Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman. "Soxley" mandates dramatic reforms to combat corporate fraud, including the establishment of the new accounting oversight board and a range of new penalties for corporate malfeasance. Use of this kind of shorthand has its benefits, but similar compressions could cause confusion. "McGold," for instance: the campaign finance reform bill or a fast-food lawsuit?

Tippee. The person on the receiving end of an insider tip. Prosecutorial wrath is usually reserved for the tipper, but thanks to Martha Stewart, who allegedly sold 4,000 shares of ImClone stock based on information she got on the q.t. from ImClone chairman Sam Waksal, "tippees" may no longer be able to count on having a "Get Off Scot Free" card. Big investors—and their in-house corporate counsel—are becoming increasingly wary of being "over-informed."

Adam Hanft is the coauthor of Dictionary of the Future (with Faith Popcorn) and president of the advertising agency Hanft Byrne Raboy.

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