5 signs of “legalese”

Fred Rodell, the former dean of Yale Law School, said, “There are two things wrong with most legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.”

No matter what industry they work in, corporate communicators have had dealings with “legalese.” It’s everywhere: in the employee handbook, in corporate policies, on website disclaimers, in contracts with clients.

No matter how many times a non-attorney reads legalese, the true meaning remains elusive.

Tired of writing clear, fluid text? Want to gum it up with legalese? Drop in a few of these attorneys’ standbys to turn your prose into quicksand.

1. Add the following words to your vocabulary and use them whenever you can:

  • aforementioned
  • forthwith
  • herein
  • heretofore
  • hereinafter
  • hereunder
  • thereof
  • thereto
  • therewith
  • thereunder
  • therefor
  • thereon
  • therefrom
  • nothwithstanding

2. Remember your Latin.

When else will you get the chance to use the Latin you learned in high school? Sprinkle these phrases in wherever possible:

  • a priori (before the fact)
  • ad litem (for the case)
  • caveat emptor (buyer beware)
  • de facto (in fact or in effect)
  • duces tecum (bring with you)
  • ergo (therefore)
  • ex officio (from the office)
  • in situ (in position)
  • ipso facto (the fact itself)
  • lingua franca (the common language)
  • nolo contendere (I do not dispute)
  • prima facie (at first look)
  • pro forma (as a matter of form)

3. Use long introductory phrases.

Use as many introductory or “throat-clearing” phrases as possible. Examples include:

  • it is important to emphasize that
  • by means of
  • due to the fact that
  • it is not necessary to state
  • for the purpose of

4. Include “included, but not limited to.”

Sometimes “include” just isn’t good enough. So when you mean to say, “I am naming some possibilities, but many other things may also apply,” use the phrase “included, but not limited to.”

5. Be redundant.

Why only state something once, when you can state it again in several different ways? Model these sentences.

  • Licensee will perform the work in compliance with all applicable laws, rules, statutes, regulations, ordinances, and codes.
  • Nothing expressed or implied in this Agreement is intended or shall be construed to give to any person or entity other than the parties and the Buyer’s permitted assignees, any rights or remedies under or by reason of this Agreement.
  • All modifications, interlineations, additions, supplements, and/or changes to this Contractual Amendment are subject to and conditioned upon a fully executed, signed, and dated acceptance, approval, and confirmation.

So remember, if a writing task requires you to obscure and confuse your reader, use legal writing as your guide.

PR Daily readers, any other examples of legalese to share?

This post was first published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.

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