Writing Tips

Legal Writing

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A Most Sacrilegious Suggestion

Does a Lawyer Need to Define Terms in a Brief?

Drop the definitions.

I have seen lawyers define terms in a brief and never use the definitions. I have seen lawyers define a term in a two-sentence letter to a client, where there’s no opportunity to use the definition. It’s something we do because it’s something other lawyers do. A reflex.
In a brief, letter, or memorandum, definitions serve only three purposes:

1. to clutter our writing;
2. to confuse our readers; and
3. to place the burden on our readers to keep track of what we mean.

 

Have you ever wondered why you don’t see defined terms in magazine articles or novels? It’s because those writers accept the responsibility for making sure their readers know what they are talking about at all times. We lawyers just give our readers a definition and make them keep track of it.

 

About eighty percent of the time we define a term, we define it with itself, which informs our readers that we are “hereinafter” going to refer to our client, “Humboldt,” as “Humboldt.” Why do we do this? Does it make sense to anybody out there? Or is it merely a tired convention? Do we really need to write:

McKensey & Moore LLP represents Gulf Coast Energy Services, LLC (hereinafter referred to as “Gulf Coast” or “the Company”) on the complaint filed by Jonathan Forshier.

Use the full name first, “Gulf Coast Energy Services, LLC,” then use your abbreviated version later in a sentence: “Gulf Coast” or “the Company.” Either is fine, but don’t tell us you are going to do it; don’t define it; just do it. Be logical with the term you choose; make it follow naturally; and we will understand.

 

A complex case with multiple parties on each side requires more thought, and perhaps there we devote a short sentence to explaining what we mean when we write “defendants.” But rarely can we not find a word (or two) that logically describes the words we want to replace, so our readers naturally follow what we mean.

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About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.

WordRake takes you beyond the merely grammatical to the truly great—the quality editor you’ve always wanted. See for yourself.

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How Does it Work?

WordRake is editing software designed by writing expert and New York Times bestselling author Gary Kinder. Like an editor or helpful colleague, WordRake ripples through your document checking for needless words and cumbersome phrases. Its complex algorithms find and improve weak lead-ins, confusing language, and high-level grammar and usage slips.

WordRake runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggestions appear in the familiar track-changes style. If you’ve used track changes, you already know how to use WordRake. There’s nothing to learn and nothing to interpret. Editing for clarity and brevity has never been easier.