Before he was Bilbo Baggins, Sir Ian Holm brought Polonius to life in Mel Gibson’s 1990 screen adaptation of Hamlet (long before Mel went stone cold nuts, but that’s a different story). For the uninitiated, Polonius was a loyal advisor to the slain king, very much like a second father to Hamlet the Prince. Who killed him.
Polonius is my favorite character in the Pantheon of Shakespeare’s personalities– if for no other reason, because of this line:
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is’t but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
My wit often forgets its soul, and I become tedious, much like my other favorite Shakesman, the constable Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing.* I am a lawyer, and I fall victim to the Lawyer’s Curse: that we think we’re getting paid by the word. More words, more money. Yay, lawyers.
Except, no. Although we’re not trying to be witty, we don’t get paid by the word. We get paid by the hour, and even that seems somehow perverse in a profession that prides itself on the best interest of the client. Translators, on the other hand, do get paid by the word. So when Germany’s declarations to the Hague Service Convention mandate translation of all documents to be served, it becomes pretty important for plaintiff’s counsel to keep things short, sweet, and to the point.
This is particularly difficult in patent infringement cases, although I have a theory I’d love to see tested.** Nevertheless, it really is critical to keep the pleadings brief, even in fact-pleading jurisdictions. Nearly all of our major trading partners require translation of service documents into their own language (the Netherlands and Israel being notable exceptions).
This above all: to thine own client be true.
Remember that you don’t get paid by the word, but translators do.
* I still can’t decide whether I enjoyed Michael Keaton‘s or Nathan Fillion‘s Dogberry more.
** Patents are a matter of public record, and they’re accessible at the PTO’s website. So why must they be attached to a complaint as exhibits rather than incorporated by reference? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, and I welcome feedback in the comments below. Notice pleading (see FRCP 8(a)(2)) requires a short and plain statement of the claim. Four hundred pages of dense patent language tends to violate that idea. And those four hundred pages are incredibly costly to translate into Swedish. Consequently, I argue that they ought to be left out, in order to avoid unnecessary costs. (I may be wrong, and don’t mind being told so.)