Redundancies in legal writing—multiple words when one best word will do—are all too common. While lawyers were in fact once paid by the word, eliminating redundancies in your legal writing will immediately raise its quality and make your document work faster and easier.
Choose the Best Word
The key to eliminating redundancies is to force yourself to choose the best word to convey the intended meaning instead of tossing in every word you can think of (or, when using an old document as a template, leaving the redundancies in).
Contracts in particular, tend to be riddled with redundancies. It’s very common to see language like this:
Jones assigns, grants, transfers, conveys, and alienates his interest to Smith …
Is it really necessary to provide that laundry list of words that essentially mean the same thing? Can we pick one word that will plainly communicate what Jones is doing, and that will prevent any future dispute about that? A check of your law dictionary will reveal that the definitions of the redundancies in our example refer to one another!
So, let’s pick one.
Jones conveys his interest to Smith …
Relax. It’s Okay. Really.
This might make you nervous. Redundancies, also known as tautologies, seem (at least to some) to add a formal, airtight quality to the language. They just sound lawyerly, which is one reason lawyers keep using them—they think clients view them as part of the magic pixie dust that lawyers sprinkle on contracts to prevent future problems.
But in fact, if you think about it, using a list of words that all mean pretty much the same thing is just a waste of time and paper, both of which cost money. And if the words mean almost but not exactly the same thing, you have created the potential for dispute as to meaning. This is the opposite of good legal writing, and, as I’ve noted here before, is exactly what we are paid to avoid.