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  • Writer's pictureRob Carty

Shedding Some Daylight on Telling Time

As professionals, we always strive to get things right. This next point is no exception, even though it may seem trivial at first.

Here’s the problem. When writing a brief, we must occasionally explain that something happened (or was supposed to happen) at a certain time of day. And sometimes, we must take the additional step of specifying not only the time, but also the time zone.

This can introduce errors. I often see briefs stating that something happened at, say, midnight “CST.” CST, as you know, stands for “Central Standard Time.” Sadly, when people use this term, they get it wrong about half the time.

This is so because, for most of the United States,* Standard Time isn’t really the standard time. It lasts only four and a half months. The other seven and a half months comprise Daylight Saving Time. In the Central Time Zone where I live, this is shortened to “CDT.”

This nuance is lost on many writers, who use “CST” all year long.

The problem is easy to avoid. First, as always, make sure that you really need to state the time and time zone—it’s often an inconsequential detail to be omitted. If it’s necessary, ask yourself whether “Central Time” or “CT” will suffice. If not—if you must also specify the season—then make sure to use the right one. Consult a calendar if necessary. Websites exist for this kind of thing; a quick Google search revealed this one.

I can hear the pushback already: “Courts will disregard this kind of error. If they notice it at all, they’ll call it a typo.” Sure. Do it right anyway. That’s what careful lawyers do. It may save you some embarrassment. And who knows—someday it may avoid an ambiguity that causes real problems.

*Hawaii and most of Arizona don’t observe Daylight Saving Time; Standard Time reigns all year long. So whatever the season, it’s correct to say “HST” or “Hawaii Standard Time” in Hawaii, and “MST” or “Mountain Standard Time” in most of Arizona. Follow the local practice.

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