Twenty ways to write like an Idiot, Lawyer Style


Ran across an amusing article today by Jay Shepherd entitled Small Firms, Big Lawyers: 20 Ways to Write Like a Tool.

Would I do any of these?  Well, er, yes I would; quite a few in fact. Such as this one:

1. Pursuant to. This is the granddaddy of them all. No real person would ever say “pursuant to” in conversation, unless what they really meant was “I’m a lawyer; punch me in the head.” Replace this legalese monstrosity with English words, like “under,” or “following,” or even “as required by.”

In fact I was guilty of that this morning, and it’s not even lunch time.  And this one:

2. Numerals in parentheses. Lawyers love to write train wrecks like this: “Mr. Smith has two (2) children from his first marriage.” Really? You think the reader won’t know what you mean by the word “two”? You think adding the numeral helps? You’re wrong. Lawyers have no idea why they practice this fetish. The only reason is that they’ve seen other lawyers do it. It serves zero (0) purpose. Cut it out.

In my defence I generally only do this with large numbers or on agreements for sale and purchase, because when my clients get the agreement, and then start offering and counter-offering, I want them to write the price in both numbers and words in the hope that at least one of them will be intelligible – so I’m giving them the example to follow!

But I recall committing this sin, completely pointlessly, for a long time when writing leases with things like “Three (3) additional terms of four (4) years each”, simply because that’s how the examples I was looking at (as a graduate lawyer) were written.

One more example:

13. And/or. This is not English. This is what lawyers do to talk about law club. No one reading a sign that says “no talking or running in the halls” is going to think that talking is prohibited, running is prohibited, but if you talk while running, that’s cool. The “and” is contained in the “or.”

Guilty as sin, although there is actually a time and place for this.

It’s an amusing read, well worth a look, and it has already prompted me to change my writing style.  Have a skim and see how many you break on a daily basis.

At least I’m not guilty of them all…and actually I disagree with some of the points.  They’re for discussion, not dogma.

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About Ivan McIntosh

I am a partner of Carter Atmore Law...residing in City Road just off the busy thoroughfare of Symonds Street, Auckland, New Zealand....where we are specialist business & property development lawyers, working for both local and international clients. Proud husband to Joanna, and dad to two sons. Passionate rugby supporter. Email: imcintosh@calaw.co.nz Ph: 64 9 921 5026
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