Stop Misusing “Such”

We spend a fair amount of time here discussing legal writing. It’s not emphasized nearly enough in law school, and as a result, poor legal writing is everywhere, creating confusion, wasting time, and losing cases.

The simplest way to improve your legal writing is to stop using legalese. Yes, legal writing sometimes requires terms of art. But far too many lawyers misuse common words, thinking they have some legal meaning when they do not, and wind up only confusing and annoying readers, including other lawyers,  judges, and juries.

Such is just such a word.

How to use such

Use such as a demonstrative adjective to refer back to something to which you’ve already mentioned. In this usage, such means “of that kind,” as in, “such a person,” or, “such people” when you’ve already somehow mentioned a category of people. It is a “pointing word,” according to Bryan Garner, and it must refer to a clear antecedent.

For example, you might write, “Aggravating factors in sentencing include assaults lasting an unusually long time, or causing particularly serious injuries, or that demonstrated unusual cruelty. The assault that defendant committed does not meet such criteria.”

How not to use such

Garner is so annoyed by the misuse of such in legal writing that at his Advanced Drafting Seminar I attended, he included it on his Drafting Oath that all participants wrote out and signed. I have that oath at my desk. Number 3 on the list is “Never again will I preparea document that contains such in place of this, that, these, those, or the.

Here’s one of Garner’s examples: “The Association agreed to compile data on all conventions that will occur in cities where there are interested Gray Line members and to forward such report to such members.” The first such should be omitted as no reports have been referred to. The second such is not incorrect but would read better as those.

Note also how in my example or correct usage above, such could be easily replaced by those. So it violates my drafting oath.

While I still think shall should be banished from legal writing altogether, since it isn’t necessary, and getting rid of it would end the debate over its proper usage, such is a useful word that lawyers continually misuse. If you aren’t sure you need it, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

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  • shg

    There’s a rumor floating around that when Bryan Garner drinks a second glass of wine at dinner with Nino Scalia, he starts using “heretofore” and “moreover” all the time, even as part of run-on sentences. Just sayin’.

    • I sure hope so. It’s got to be hard to keep all that lexicographical flotsam and jetsam bottled up all the time.

  • Let us add “certain” to such category of misused words in legal writing such as I’ve done in this sentence. Please, no more “that certain agreement entered into on [such and such date].” Just say “the agreement.” “Certain” adds nothing but an extra word.

    • Agree 100%.

    • shg

      Heh. You used “such” three times in two sentences and Andy agrees 100%. This may be the birth of a new drinking game.

      • Andy Mergendahl

        “Sarcastic Use of such Drinking Game!” If you use it not-sarcastically, you have to buy the next round. I’m in.

  • Cameron

    Eliminate the word “very” as well. Also, “enclosed, please find.”

    • MBK

      Agreed! I cannot stand the use of “enclosed please find.” What does it mean “please find?” It’s like you are asking the reader to go hunting for something. Drives me nuts!

  • Also “and/or”.

    • “And/or” is also on Garner’s My Drafting Oath (of what I promise to never use).

    • shg

      And/or has a purpuse, to include dis- and conjunctive. Garner is completely wrong about and/or. It’s a matter of precision.

      • It can be precise, but is often misused. I find it stylistically ugly, and better alternatives are available when needed, including adding “or both” or “but not both” when using “or”.

  • Blake

    If you’re masochistic and enjoy repeated misuses of “such,” have a read through the Kansas statutes on the licensing of insurance agents.