Legal Writing Skills: Nix the Legalese!

Legal Writing Skills

It’s no secret. Whether you’re writing an essay for the bar exam, a memo for a client, or a brief for a judge, your readers already know that you went to law school. There’s no need to beat them over the head with it! So why fill your writing with a bunch of legal jargon? It’s stale, boring, and a huge turnoff for your readers. 

But what exactly is legalese? Sometimes it’s the unnecessary use of Latin—phrases like ab initio, a fortiori, and bona fide are a dead giveaway. Other times it’s using English words you’d never say out loud—words like “aforementioned,” “wherein,” and “hereafter.” Still other times it’s shoehorning too many words or concepts into a single sentence—often via semicolons or multiple “and”s. Here’s an example:

Inasmuch as the cousin referenced herein was a bona fide purchaser of the property, the sale to the nephew was void ab initio and, as such, the cousin shall hereafter be deemed the owner of said property. 

Pretty pompous, right? Legalese is basically a lose-lose proposition. It will make your readers roll their eyes or groan as they struggle through your writing. It will distract them from the substance of your otherwise brilliant work. So keep your writing clean, simple, and free of legalese. With just a little time and attention, you can easily weed out the legalese: 

Since the cousin mentioned above purchased the property in good faith, the sale to the nephew was ineffective from the beginning. As a result, the cousin now owns the property.

Here are some other ways for you to bring legalese to its knees:

a fortiori even more so“If he can afford to buy a car, then a fortiori even more so he can afford a bicycle.”
heretoforebefore, previously, until now“The defendant’s argument has heretofore previously been rejected by numerous courts.”
inasmuch assinceInasmuch as Since the customer had already downed several drinks, the bartender called him a cab.”
instant casehere“The statute applies to the instant case here.”
in the event thatifIn the event that If the niece dies before the brother, her share will instead go to the cousin.”
inter aliaamong other things“The plaintiff’s complaint included a prayer for, inter alia among other things, punitive damages.”
notwithstandingdespite“He let his daughter borrow the car notwithstanding despite his reservations.”
pursuant toin accordance with, under“The plaintiff should prevail pursuant to under the above authorities.”
thereafterlater, subsequently“The bank robber thereafter later abandoned the getaway car.”
whereinin which, where“The key unlocked the safe wherein where the diamond was stored.”

So in the event that if our message has heretofore previously been unclear notwithstanding despite our best efforts, kindly allow us to summarize: Nix the legalese! It will make your writing readable, relatable, and persuasive. Plain English is plain better!

If you want more examples of plain, clear writing that’s not pretentious, take a look at our expertly crafted MBE® explanations. Click here to access the UWorld MBE QBank or purchase a subscription.

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