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“Pleaded” vs. “Pled”

Posted by Library Blog on 01/24/2013 at 04:09 PM

John Chandler and Brian Boone, both senior litigators at top law firms, recently debated the correct past tense of “plead” in a post for Legal Technology News.  In “War of the Words: Pleaded vs. Pled,” Attorney Chandler states his reasons for using "pled" while Attorney Boone makes his case for the use of "pleaded."  

Attorney Chandler says that while “pleaded” is fine on paper, lawyers use “pled” while in court.  According to him, “pled” sounds more pleasing to the ear.   Attorney Chandler notes the results of two polls conducted by AbovetheLaw in which a majority of the respondents preferred “pled.”   Also, a search of Lexis and Westlaw retrieves the occurrence of “pled” more than “pleaded.”

Attorney Boone uses “pleaded” because every legal and journalistic writing guide from the last 100 years has said that “pleaded” is the better choice.1  He notes that a quick Westlaw search reveals that the Supreme Court has used "pleaded" in over 3,000 opinions.  The Court used "pled" in only 26 opinions and in some of those 26 opinions, the Court was quoting someone else.  He mentions that Judges Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, rock-stars of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and prolific authors, rarely use “pled.”

If you have questions about the proper use of legal terminology, consult Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (Reference, KF156 .G367 2011).  Additional texts by Bryan Garner for improving your legal writing are: The Redbook: a Manual on Legal Style (Reserve, KF250 . G3 2006) and Making Your Case: the Art of Persuading Judges co-authored with Justice Scalia (Reserve, KF8870 .S25 2008).




1. See, e.g., Garner's Modern American Usage 682 (third edition, 2011) (favoring "pleaded" and collecting a number of sources that do the same); The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage 263 (first revised edition); The Associated Press Stylebook, 215 (2011).