Legal Writing New Lawyers

Turn Legalese into Plain English

174431990A contract shouldn’t require a Latin-English dictionary to understand it! In fact, there’s generally no reason to use Latin terms or formal legal language (legalese) at all. Use plain English to be sure the contracts and other documents you’re writing are in a language that the parties can read and understand. Here’s a chart to keep handy next time you’re drafting a legal document (or to discreetly slip to a legalese-laden colleague).


adequate number of enough; sufficient
aforesaid previous
all of the parties all parties
and/or … or… or both
anticipate expect
as to whether (or not) whether
at the time when
by means of by; through
contained in in
contiguous to next to; adjacent to
deems considers
does not operate to does not
during such time as while
for the duration of during
for the purpose of ___ing; with the object of ____ing to ____
for the reason that because
hereby; hereofhereunder; herein by/of this ___; under this ___; in this ___
heretofore previously
in case; in the event that if
in lieu of instead of
in many cases many of; often
in order to to
in the last analysis finally
is (un)able to can(not)
it is directed; it is the duty must; shall
it is incumbent on X to X must; X shall
literal(ly) actual(ly); exact(ly)
loan (verb) lend
monies money
necessitate require
necessity of need to
occasion (as a verb) cause
of a technical nature technical
on the part of by
possess have; own
prior to before
render (i.e., to give) give
render (i.e., to cause to be) make
said the, that
secondly second
subsequent to after
such the, that
suffer allow
take into consideration consider
thereby; thereofthereunder; therein by that ___; of that ___under that ___; in that ____
to the effect that that
transpire happen
under the provisions of; pursuant to under; in accordance with
until such time as until
utilize use, make use of
with respect to about

Did you know that using plain English when drafting a contract is not only more effective, but it’s legally required? Under California law the “words of a contract are to be understood in their ordinary and popular sense” unless it’s clear that the parties intended a special or technical meaning. CC §1644; Supervalu, Inc. v Wexford Underwriting Managers, Inc. (2009) 175 CA4th 64, 72.

The drafter should also make sure that technical words are used as commonly understood in the profession or business to which they relate, unless it’s clear that they’re being used in a different sense. CC §1645.

Get more legal writing advice in CEB’s popular program Smith on Legal Writing, available On Demand. On the mechanics of document drafting, turn to CEB’s Drafting Business Contracts: Principles, Techniques and Forms, chapter 1.

Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

14 replies on “Turn Legalese into Plain English”

[…] Being familiar with legalese is important to protect yourself. That said, when it comes to modern business contracts, try to avoid it at all times. It is confusing, and if you present people with what looks essentially like gibberish, they are immediately going to take issue with the fact that they won’t know whether or not to trust you, simply because of language choice. […]

[…] Make it easy to read. Readers aren’t looking for a treatise in your blog post, just some helpful content in an easily-accessible format. Using lumbered lists or bullet points makes the material easy to understand and read. Also, break up text with quotes and examples. Always write in short paragraphs, tight language, and without legalese. […]

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