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Ultra Hal

How to write like a lawyer

All first-year law students take a class called Legal Writing. The purpose of this class, says Prof. James D. Gordon III in this article, is “to make you write like real lawyers as little as possible.”

To elaborate: The legal-writing teachers recommend “concise language and simple, everyday words.” Whereas1 real lawyers know how to lay it on thick while pulling out all the stops.2 Prof. Gordon offers this comparison: Suppose you want to give someone an orange. You could use “the simple, everyday phrase, ‘I give you this orange.’”3 But then anybody with a working knowledge of the English language can write a simple, five-word declarative sentence. It takes a lawyer to write it this way:

Know all men by these presents that I hereby give, grant, bargain, sell, release, convey, transfer, and quitclaim all my right, title, interest, benefit, and use whatever in, of, and concerning this chattel, otherwise known as an orange, or citrus orantium, together with all the appurtenances  thereto of skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds, and juice, to have and to hold the said orange together with its skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds, and juice for his own use and behoof, to himself and his heirs in fee simple forever, free from all liens, encumbrances, easements, limitations, restraints, or conditions whatsoever, any and all prior deeds, transfers or other documents whatsoever, now or anywhere made to the contrary notwithstanding, with full power to bite, cut, suck, or otherwise eat the said orange or to give away the same, with or without its skin, pulp, pip, rind, seeds, or juice.3

Besides taking on legal writing, Prof. Gordon riffs on the entire law-school experience, from LSATs through the bar exam. Somehow his article was printed in the Yale Law Journal, but despite that liability, it’s a delightful read.

(Hat tip to Cappy-Lawling.)


1 Real lawyers sprinkle their writing with words like whereas. Also, they often write ungrammatical things, e.g. this free-standing dependent clause.

2 Not to mention mixing their metaphors (unless you’re a sexton who uses lots of Pledge on the church organ).

3 Prof. Gordon credits Plain Wayne, Wis. B. Bull., Feb. 1975, at 61.