Roberta M. Gubbins, Esq.
I Write Content--You Practice Law

Draft Three / blog

Words to Lose


Words are the magic tool in the lawyer’s toolbox. They are used to argue in court, to write the convincing brief, the ironclad contract or the unassailable will. Many are terms of art in the legal world. 

For your clients, however, they can be terms of confusion.

A recent article in the ABA Journal by Bryan Garner had a list of words that should be on the legal verbal blacklist as words that confuse the reader and stain the document that contains them. 

Such words as:

pursuant to  An age old term that makes new lawyers believe they’ve made it into the club. Think of it as a secret handshake of words. Rather than say “pursuant to the contract,” simply write “the contract requires xyz.’

whereas  Often seen as the introduction to a contract meant to present the reasons for the agreement, it is clearer to simply write a subtitle “Background,” followed by short sentences explaining what’s about to happen. 

witnesseth The word is from Shakespeare’s time considered by some readers to be a sort of command such as “this indenture Witnesseth that...” Not so, the word is indicative, not an order. Get rid of it, both you and your clients will appreciate its demise. 

deem This word is used to create an illusion. For example, for purposes of this story, the cat is deemed to be a lion--it isn’t really, but we’ll treat it like it like a big cat. Banish deem--unless, of course, you do want to create a legal fiction. 

Other words on the verbal blacklist include: said as in “said document” when the document will do; shall--defined by courts to mean “should, is, will and even may,” such--used by clients to mean of that kind, by lawyers to mean the one just mentioned, a difference creating instant confusion between writer and reader. 

Joe Kimble in his book “Lifting the Fog of Legalese,” provides readers with substitutions for those legal terms that can confuse. Examples include:

     Replace                              With
      accede to                            allow
      administer                          manage
      allocate                               divide, give
      effectuate                           bring about
      institute                               begin, start
      previously                          before
      principal                             main
      procure                               buy
      visualize                             imagine      

Kimple provides pages and pages of words that lawyers can use to help their clients understand the documents before them. 

Lawyers using social media to maintain contact with existing and potential clients must be especially cautious. Blog and e-newsletter readers don’t read in depth. They scan looking for information they can use. Help them understand--use the simple word rather than the complex. Your readers will appreciate it.