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One of the bad habits that lawyers have trouble breaking is using all capital letters, especially in the headings of legal documents.  (Okay, not nearly as interesting as the bad habits Tiger Woods has trouble breaking, but I think enough people are covering that story already.)

The Sun, which will go dark before any judge does this. This bugs me (all caps, not people following Tiger), because it is so hard to get people to quit doing it.  I guess they are afraid they will one day have to explain an order that says, "The Court finds that the arguments set out in the motion are persuasive, but the movant has failed to observe the long-standing practice that only capital letters shall be employed in headings.  MOTION DENIED."  The difficulty of explaining that to a client should be balanced against the fact that it is not going to happen during the time that remains in the life of the universe.  (Pictured: The Sun, which will go out before anyone gets in trouble for NOT using all caps.)

Especially when there is a very good reason not to use all caps: PEOPLE HATE IT.  It is difficult to read, and for whatever reason it has (OMG!) come to signify yelling.  There is plenty of evidence to support this, and here's some more: at least one person has been fired for doing it.  Of course, as the workers' compensation agency recently found, firing someone for this is stupid, but the point remains that it clearly bugs people.

Vicki Walker was a financial controller with ProCare Health until the fateful day when she sent an email telling her colleagues how to file claim forms, including a deadline highlighted in bold AND red, and an even more imperious sentence highlighted in bold AND blue AND using all capital letters: 


A newspaper added the picture — had Walker included it herself, I assume she would have been staring right at the recipients, probably dressed up in a German prison-camp matron's uniform and giving them all the stinkeye.  (Yes, TypePad, please do add "stinkeye" to my spell-check dictionary.  Why is it not already included?)

While there may have been other problems behind the scenes, ProCare told the Employment Relations Authority that Walker was fired for causing "disharmony in the workplace" by using block capitals, bold typeface and red text in what it called "confrontational" emails.  The agency found that while she had contributed to "disharmony," she had been a competent employee and the extent of any disharmony did not justify firing her without warning.  It awarded her $17,500.

A spokesperson for the agency also said that ProCare did not have a style or etiquette guide for employees using email, so that it may not have been clear what was and was not unacceptable.  And maybe it was the combination of factors, not just the block capitals, that put Walker over the edge.  Still, use them at your own risk.

Link: New Zealand Herald
Link: Legal Blog Watch