Legal documents aren't known for their wit or humor. Most legal writing, in fact, tends to be rather dry. But occasionally an attorney breaks the mold with such panache the document begs to be shared.
Such is the case with a letter by Vermont attorney Andrew Delaney in response to a threat of legal action for alleged copyright infringement. Delaney, a partner at Martin & Associates in Barre, Vt., represents Greg Thatcher, founder of a website that publishes bank routing numbers as a public service.
With sarcastic comments and amusing footnotes that even include a reference to the Spice Girls, Delaney spells out his legal argument for why no infringement has occurred. The closing paragraph certainly demonstrates the overall tone:
"If you do feel it's necessary to sue our client, we are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and we have lollipops for people who serve process. So if you do file a complaint and send someone over with a summons, please have them wear something with a bit of purple…we all like purple."
Delaney wrote the letter to Covington & Burling attorney Nigel Howard, who represents the American Bankers Association — the organization that alleged copyright infringement and sent Thatcher a takedown notice. Although Thatcher was convinced he did nothing wrong because he obtained his data from the Federal Reserve, he removed the information from his site, noting on the page that it was "unavailable due to legal action." (The American Bankers Association's takedown notice was first reported in June by Techdirt.)
Delaney said he has been a long-time user of Thatcher's website, so he was surprised and concerned when he visited the site one day and discovered he couldn't get the information he sought because of a legal threat. He contacted Thatcher and told him he'd represent him pro bono — a fact he did not neglect to point out in his letter to Howard in one of his many humorous footnotes:
"We're not charging Greg because we used to use his site a lot. And we never paid him anything. But then you wrecked it for everyone. That wasn't nice."
Delaney said he wrote his unconventional letter because he thought the allegations were silly and he saw a little guy with a small website being bullied by a big business organization. He pulled in another attorney at his firm, Jorge Pivar-Federici, and a paralegal to help. And the firm's secretary, whom he describes in his letter as "our long-suffering secretary" and "the boss," read it over. "Our first draft was actually not as nice," Delaney said. "It was even snarkier than this one but our secretary said it was unnecessarily mean and we had to tone it down."
This is not the first time Delaney has written a legal document in his distinct style. In 2011, he wrote what he calls "a semi-humorous" law review article in Arizona State University's Sports and Entertainment Law Journal about tax law and the National Football League. (This article garnered considerable attention and led Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to introduce legislation that would end the practice of allowing professional sports leagues to qualify as tax-exempt organizations.) And Delaney is a regular contributor to The Supreme Court of Vermont Law Blog, which describes itself as a site "featuring summaries of Vermont Supreme Court decision, a dollop of lampooning, legal analysis, and a charming aggregation of creative thought."
"Most legal writing is stale and boring," Delaney said. "It's a lot more fun to write like this."
Delaney, who is described in his law firm bio as "an avid writer," has also published in Willamette University College of Law's Willamette Sports Law Journal and occasionally writes for the New York State Bar Association's Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section. He wrote the cover article for the February 2013 issue of the Bar Journal of the New York State Bar Association. The bio also notes that he "plays guitar in a punk rock band and enjoys reading non-legal books on occasion."
The Vermont-based attorney has not yet received a response from Coving­ton's Howard (who was also unavailable for comment). But Thatcher wrote on his website that the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on digital rights, has contacted Delaney and said it was impressed with his letter and would be interested in helping out.
Lisa Shuchman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.