Friday, December 15, 2017

Capitalization of Party Designations

small__5203880818When to capitalize party designations is one convention of legal writing that causes problems for many legal writers. See, e.g., Elie Mystal, Benchslap: Judge Orders Local Attorney to “Re-Read . . . FRCP,” Above the Law (Sept. 21, 2009 4:23 PM) (Judges corrected motion available here). Fortunately, the convention is relatively simple to comply with after reading the relevant Bluebook rule and observing a few examples.

When referring to parties in cases, “plaintiff” and “defendant” are only capitalized if they are the subject of the litigation you are writing for.  If you are referring to a party in a case you are citing or generic parties, the party designation is lowercased. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. B7.3.2, at 22 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010).

Note: This rule applies to all party designations, not just plaintiff and defendant.


Plaintiff alleges Defendant assaulted him.

The plaintiff in Smith alleged that the defendant assaulted him.

The plaintiffs’ bar has been very creative in this new area of litigation.

Plaintiff relies on the success of the cause of action against a similarly situated defendant.

In this case, Plaintiff Smith alleges Defendant Adams’ writings amounted to defamation.

Referring to the parties in your document as “Plaintiff” or “Defendant” should be avoided, however, because it “can make your writing very dull and confusing, particularly if you are discussing multiple cases in close proximity to each other.” Ten Tips for Success on Legal Research And Writing Assignments, Persuasive Authority (Mar. 10, 2013). Referring to the parties by their proper names is preferred because it ensures the reader knows which party is being discussed.

If it does become necessary to refer to the parties by their designations, the definite article preceding the party designation should be omitted.


Petitioner countered that, state law notwithstanding, admitting the evidence would violate his federal constitutional right to be “confronted with the witnesses against him.”

Not: The Petitioner countered . . . .

A good way to think about this, is that the party designation is taking the place of the parties proper name.

You would write:

John Smith argued . . . .

Not: The John Smith argued . . . .

When referring to a party to another case, the definite article should be included. This makes sense when you keep in mind the John Smith example above.

You would write:

In 1606, the explorer founded Jamestown.

Not:  In 1606, explorer founded Jamestown.

photo credit: The Shopping Sherpa via photopin cc


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