>> Ban Legalisms From Your Writing

Ban Legalisms From Your Writing

By Judge Mark P. Painter

We can clean up our legal vocabulary by banning legalisms. Not just some, but all. You should never use the following words or phrases:

Pursuant to. It’s an affectation. Under R.C. 4511.19 makes more sense than pursuant to R.C. 4511.19. And it’s shorter.

Such. As in such motion. That is a demonstrative adjective – whatever that is. What’s wrong with the motion?

Provided that. We banned it a few columns ago, but it never hurts to remind people.

However. Never start a sentence with however. Use but and your writing will be crisper and clearer.

Hereinafter, aforesaid, and all their relatives. Never. Not ever. This is legalese at its worst.

Clear. As in it is clear that. Or even worse, crystal clear. Lawyers’ use of clear almost always signals what is least clear – what is most in contention. If something is clear, then there is no need to say it’s clear. The same is true for clearly.

In order to. The in order gives us nothing that to alone doesn’t. The same is true with:

By means of. The means of gives us nothing. Just a two-letter by is fine.

Infra. That means you are going to tell us something later. If it’s relevant now, write it now. The same is true for supra – it is banned in all but citational footnotes.

Evidence That Short Is Better

We all know that people don’t read long quotations. We now have evidence that this truism applies to judges also. In an excellent article in the excitingly named Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Massachusetts lawyer David Lewis confirms our long-held suspicion – judges tend to skip block quotes. He surveyed state and federal judges in New York and New England. A large number replied to his rather long survey – 56 percent of judges in New England and 39 percent of those in New York.

Though only about 36 percent of judges agreed or strongly agreed that they often skipped block quotes, that’s a large number, especially considering that judges might not want to admit to skipping any part of a brief. In an answer to a more revealing question, 60 percent said they preferred short quotations or paraphrased text to long blocked quotes. That is all the evidence we need.


In each column, I list the two major readability statistics – remember that you can program Word to tell you these and more. Statistics for this column: 9.2 words per sentence, 4 percent passive voice. (Remember the 1818 Rule – no more than an average of 18 words per sentence and 18 percent passive-voice sentences.)

Shameless Plug Time

The third edition of The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Legal Writing has just come off the press. The first two editions sold out quickly. The new one is expanded – it even has more cartoons. Ordering information is on page 6.


Mark Painter has served as a judge on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals for 10 years, after 13 years on the Hamilton County Municipal Court. He has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law since 1990. Judge Painter is the author of five books, including The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Legal Writing. The book is available from http://books.lawyersweekly.com. Judge Painter has given dozens of seminars on legal writing, and will give his six-hour legal writing seminar on April 28 in Cleveland, May 6 in Indianapolis, June 16 in Louisville, Ky., and June 17 in Lexington, Ky. Contact him through his website www.judgepainter.org.