Utilizing and Normalizing Personal Pronouns in Legal Filings, Proceedings, and Communications
By Joseph Stanton (he/him) and Yoshiko Taylor (they/them)
The Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) recently recognized the value of including personal pronouns in legal filings by amending SJC Rule 1:08, Case and Filer Information on Papers Filed in All Courts. Effective October 1, 2022, Rule 1:08(1)(H) gives attorneys and self-represented litigants the option to list their personal pronouns along with other information required by Rule 1:08(1), including their name, Board of Bar Overseers number, mailing address, the name of their law firm (if any), telephone number, and business email address, in any document filed in any court in the Commonwealth. Specifically, Rule 1:08(1)(H) states that “if the self-represented litigant or attorney elects, the self-represented litigant’s or attorney’s personal pronouns” may be included in a court filing’s signature block.
The amendment serves multiple purposes. Primarily, the provision allows people of any gender identity, whether cisgender, transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, or otherwise, to include their personal pronouns on a court filing. This is important because it can help prevent inadvertent mistakes of persons being misgendered during a legal proceeding. As the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being’s Report Summarizing Affinity Bar Town Hall Meetings (2021) noted, misgendering of attorneys and court participants such as witnesses and parties occurs. Misgendering someone because of assumptions about their name, appearance, or past societal standards can be hurtful, insulting, distracting, and embarrassing for both parties.  Of course, providing opportunities for people to share their pronouns does not mean that everyone must share their pronouns or would feel comfortable doing so.  Indeed, Rule 1:08(1)(H) is optional.
Using personal pronouns  recognizes the person and provides them confidence that they will not be marginalized unintentionally by assumptions or misunderstandings.  As legal employers and the Massachusetts judiciary rightly emphasize diversity, equity and inclusion to make our legal system and courthouses more representative of our communities, efforts for inclusion require conscientious action across a range of topics. Treating litigants, attorneys, witnesses, and court personnel respectfully and courteously is critical to forging an inclusive environment in all aspects of our system – from our courtrooms to law firms and across other venues such as legal seminars.
A simple but meaningful step to promote inclusiveness and respect is to use personal pronouns more often – in court filings and in other modes of communication, such as email signatures, Zoom and LinkedIn profiles, during introductions at legal education seminars, and online professional profiles. During court proceedings, attorneys and judges can state their personal pronouns during introductions.  Courts can list judges’ pronouns online or in courtroom signage. Judges and attorneys can use a person’s name or gender-neutral words like “counsel” and “jurors,” and eliminate the use of gender-specific terms and phrases like “ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” “sir,” and “ma’am.” Trial court orders and appellate court decisions can use such techniques to refer to parties and witnesses.
Increased usage and visibility of personal pronouns will increase recognition and understanding and reduce any awkwardness, stigma, or uncertainty about personal pronouns. Indeed, using someone’s personal pronouns signals one’s commitment to affirming and respecting everyone’s individuality. “Being an effective ally means listening to the issues faced by marginalized groups, understanding how this may impact their well-being and professional advancement, and taking a proactive role in ensuring marginalized groups are supported throughout their careers, both personally and professionally.” Instead of being an exception, personal pronoun inclusion can become the norm.
Although SJC Rule 1:08 may not be well known because filers do not often consult it, Rule 1:08 is the basis for requirements in the Massachusetts rules of civil, criminal, and appellate procedure that govern the contents of every court filing. These bodies of rules can be amended to incorporate the Rule 1:08(H) provision and thereby directly inform readers of the option for all filers to include their personal pronouns. Doing so would allow judges, opposing counsel, and court personnel to view a person’s pronouns in advance of a hearing or communication, limiting the chances of misgendering them during the proceeding. Providing people the opportunity to self-identify their personal pronouns in court filings helps our courts be more inclusive by helping to minimize misgendering, transphobia, trans-exclusion, and negative LGBTQIA+ experiences in our courts and law offices.
Without more widespread use of personal pronouns, mistakes will likely occur. People frequently make assumptions about a person’s gender based on their name or appearance and then apply those assumptions to the pronouns or form of address (“my brother” or “my sister”) used to refer to that person. Some assumptions are incorrect and convey a potentially disrespectful message that people need to appear or have certain names to demonstrate their gender. Judges and clerks of court are ethically bound to treat litigants respectfully, as are lawyers. ,  Incorporating personal pronouns into our legal filings, court proceedings, and law-related activities facilitates and enables such respectful behavior.
Additional steps can include modifying the judiciary’s case management systems (MassCourts and Forecourt) and court-issued forms to include fields for personal pronouns and for preferred honorifics such as “Mx” (pronounced Mix). Likewise, the Board of Bar Overseers’ attorney records system, which the courts utilize to populate attorney profiles in their case management systems, can include an optional field for personal pronouns. Witness lists can include pronouns to inform other case participants and court personnel. Further, including an optional data field for pronunciation of names can be helpful and provide a more respectful environment.
Notwithstanding good intentions, inadvertent misgendering sometimes occurs. When it does, one of the most helpful things allies can do to normalize pronoun usage is to address mislabeling when they see it. Allies can do this in a variety of ways, with each having its own benefits and drawbacks. Two common ways to address mislabeling are “Calling Out” and “Calling In.”
“Calling Out” refers to speaking up in the moment when someone is misgendered by remarking something as simple as, “a quick reminder that [insert name] uses [insert pronouns].” This type of response shows others around you that you are actively being mindful, supportive, and inclusive of other people’s identities. It gives the individual immediate feedback that they have misspoken and can help them be mindful for the future.
“Calling In” is used in situations when Calling Out may be too uncomfortable or perhaps inappropriate. This approach occurs one-on-one between the ally and the individual to have a conversation about the individual’s misstep and ways to correct future communications. This gentler approach can help reduce the embarrassment or even anger that a speaker may experience compared to the immediate reaction that can occur when Calling Out.
The Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court have created an opportunity for the Massachusetts judicial system and bar to practice inclusiveness and respect with just a few words. Whether you identify as he/him, she/her, they/them, or by other pronouns, please consider following the Justices’ lead and incorporating SJC Rule 1:08(1)(H) into your filings as well as your daily communications.
Joseph Stanton (he/him) is Clerk of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He is the proud parent of an amazing transgender child.
Yoshiko Taylor (they/them) is a member of the Appeals Court Clerk’s Office and the Court’s DEI committee.
 Human Rights Campaign, Talking About Pronouns in the Workplace, https://www.thehrcfoundation.org/professional-resources/talking-about-pronouns-in-the-workplace
 This article uses “personal pronouns” because the pronouns refer to a unique and individual person. https://pronouns.org/what-and-why. “Gender pronouns” is not used because the term does not necessarily reflect or indicate a person’s gender, and “preferred pronouns” is not used because pronouns are part of a person’s identity, not a preference. GLSEN, Pronoun Guide, https://www.glsen.org/activity/pronouns-guide-glsen. See also Human Rights Campaign, Talking About Pronouns in the Workplace, https://www.thehrcfoundation.org/professional-resources/talking-about-pronouns-in-the-workplace
 Compare SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being: Report Summarizing Affinity Bar Town Hall Meetings (2021).
 The American Bar Association House of Delegates recently passed Resolution 401, which supports the adoption of a best practices bench card that guides judges in using LGBTQIA+ inclusive language and personal pronouns in the courtroom. The New York court system developed the original bench card, available at https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/IP/LGBTQ/LGBTQ%20Bench%20Card.pdf
 See Mass. R. Civ. P. 5(g) (information required “[o]n any pleading or other paper required or permitted by these rules to be filed with the court”); Mass. R. Civ. P. 11(a)(1) (signing of pleading); Mass. R. Civ. P. 11(b) (notice of appearance); Mass. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1) (filing of appearance of counsel); Mass. R. Crim. P. 32(b) (“Service upon the attorney or upon a party shall be made in the manner provided for in civil actions”); Mass. R. Crim. P. 32(d) (“Papers shall be filed in the manner provided for in civil actions”); Mass. R. A. P. 13(d)(2)(C) & 13(e)(2)(E) (certificates of service); Mass. R. A. P. 16(12)(A) (brief’s signature block); and Mass. R. A. P. 20(a)(6)(B)(v) & 20(b)(2)(B)(i) (content of briefs’ covers and motions’ signature blocks).
 SJC Rule 3:09, Mass. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2, Rule 2.3 Bias, Prejudice, and Harassment,
(B) and comments -. See also SJC Rule 3:09, Mass. Judicial Code of Conduct, Canon 3, Rule 3.1, Extrajudicial activities in general, Comment .
 SJC Rule 3:12, Mass. Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of Courts, Canon 8, Non-Discrimination.
 See SJC Rule 3:07, Mass. R. Prof. Conduct, Preamble (effective Oct. 1, 2022) (“ … A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials.”).
 See SJC Rule 3:07, Mass. R. Prof. Conduct, Rule 4.4, Respect for Rights of Third Persons, (a)(3) & Comment 1B.