Don’t Write Like This (even if you’re a lawyer)

Dear Copy Bitch: Aren’t long, complex sentences with big words more impressive, professional, and “important” sounding than the short sentences you seem to advocate?

—The Curious Cursory Blog Reader

Answer: Here’s a story for you: A few years back, I taught a first semester writing course to law students. The reason why this brave little law school hired me, The Copy Bitch, is because it wanted someone to teach these folks how to write clearly instead of like the stereotypical lawyer.

One of my former students, now an attorney, sent me an email the other day that said, “I just had to read a clause in a legal contract. Guess how many words it had it in it? I’ll give you a hint: slightly more than twenty.” (I used to tell ’em to keep sentences as short as possible to make for easier reading. No, this rule doesn’t apply for everything. But it’s not a bad rule to guide you, at least in professional writing, which is what lawyers do.)

I asked him to remove any identifying info and send me the clause, which he did. It’s below.

Company and Mr. Smith Release.  For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Company and Mr. Smith (the “Company Releasors”) do hereby remise, release and forever discharge and by these presents do for themselves and their successors, assigns, subsidiaries, parent corporation, affiliates, insurers, and past, present and future members, managers, employees, agents, and representatives remise, release and forever discharge Ms. Jones and her successors, legal representatives and assigns (the “Jones Releasees”) from, against and with respect to any and all actions, accounts, agreements, causes of action, complaints, charges, claims, covenants, contracts, costs, damages, demands, debts, defenses, duties, expenses, executions, fees, injuries, interest, judgments, liabilities, losses, obligations, penalties, promises, reimbursements, remedies, suits, sums of money, and torts of any kind and nature whatsoever, whether in law, equity or otherwise, direct or indirect, fixed or contingent, foreseeable or unforeseeable, liquidated or unliquidated, known or unknown, matured or unmatured, absolute or contingent, determined or determinable but excepting and excluding the Promissory Note (collectively, a “Claim”) which the Company Releasors ever had, now have, or which the Company Releasors hereafter can, shall or may have against the Buyer Releasees, related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever from the beginning of time to the date hereof related to, for, upon or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever; provided, however, that this Release shall not affect, waive, extinguish or otherwise release the Jones Releasees from any and all future claims which the Company may have related to the Promissory Note.

This doesn’t sound impressive, professional, or important. Do not write like this, ever. Even if you’re a lawyer.

(Note: I’m not an attorney, but you don’t need to write like this simply because you are one. To wit: my former student, the one who’s now a lawyer, was pulling his hair out over this piece of crap writing.)

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