Writing Tips

Legal Writing

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One Thing Perfectly Clear

Why Not to Use "Clear" in a Brief

 

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon (Photo: Library of Congress)

Using the word “clear” in a brief guarantees the judge will suspect whatever follows.

During the Vietnam War, and leading up to his resignation, President Richard Nixon preceded many public comments with the line, “Let me make one thing perfectly clear.”

Eventually, Americans learned that whatever followed would be filled with deception, obfuscation, fabrication, and lies.

 

The word “clear” (and its adverb “clearly”) still enjoys the same reputation in the courtroom. I have asked between 800 and 1,000 judges and clerks what they think when they see the word “clear” in a brief. About two percent have said they don’t notice. The rest have said they not only notice, but they also suspect the lawyer is hiding something. (Which the lawyer usually is.) Close cousins are words like “obviously”:

 

The agreement also clearly stated that if he failed to adhere to any part of the agreement, he would be irrevocably terminated.

 

Bostonian obviously had no intent to hinder or delay or defraud Mercantile, as evidenced by the repayment of the loan.

 

WordRake editing software will help you spot these marked words, so you don’t have to be so vigilant:

 

The agreement also clearly stated that if he failed to adhere to any part of the agreement, he would be irrevocably terminated.

 

Bostonian obviously had no intent to hinder or delay or defraud Mercantile, as evidenced by the repayment of the loan.

 

Avoid using “clear” and similar, self-serving words, not because they’re weak and unconvincing, but because judges and their clerks are waiting for you to use them, and then you’ve just doubled the burden on yourself.

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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.