Legal Writing

The Principle behind Homonyms — and a Pet Peeve: Sole Solos

Have fun reading Professor Martin’s teasing about a grammatical error repeated in two recent Ninth Circuit opinions. I agree with the professor. A mitigating circumstance, however, is that the mistake relates to a homonym pair for which I’d venture one word or the other is present in almost every legal opinion, so the odds of a mistake once in a while are high, even though the overall error rate might be low.

While on the grammar front, here’s a pet peeve. Every time I see a reference to a “sole practitioner,” I think of someone who’s the only lawyer in town. Or maybe a shoe repairman. Judging by most of the bar-related publications I read, “sole practitioner” seems to be the term of choice for identifying lawyers who practice on their own.

But shouldn’t we refer to these lawyers as SOLO practitioners — like we did when I was in law school?

Granted, “sole” may be technically correct according to these definitions of the word (my favorite: “without company or companions; lonely”), but compared to the definition of “solo” (among them: “a person who works, acts, or performs alone”), it certainly seems the less accurate. Besides, you never hear of anyone “flying sole.” Jazz musicians don’t break into “soles.” And would Harrison Ford’s Star Wars character have had the same roguish swagger if he were named “Han Sole?” I don’t think so!

If anyone cares to differ . . .well, that’s what the comments section is for. Have at it. Then again, if it turns out most of you agree with me, I think we should start a movement to banish the use of “sole practitioner” — unless, of course, one really is referring to the only lawyer in town.

Bibliography: Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: May 31, 2007).