Legal Writing Tip: Avoid Legal Clichés

Clichés in writing extend far beyond stories that begin, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Legal writing, too, is often loaded with overused phrases that have lost their oomph, whether it be idioms or literary and pop culture references. Clichés may feel brief and tidy, but, really, they just broadcast the writer’s laziness.

When drafting legal documents, rather than relying on stock phrases as a crutch, truly think about what you’re trying to say and then figure out your own fresh way to express the same idea. For example, rather than accusing your legal adversary of making “bald assertions,” say instead what you mean – clearly, forcefully and specifically. As in: “Although plaintiff claims to have standing in this case, he cites no facts to support a legally protectable stake or interest that entitles him to bring this dispute before the court to obtain relief.”

Expect your first draft might be littered with clichés. But when editing, hunt for the following worn-out phrases and replace them with your own unique expression of the same idea:

Fishing expedition
Slippery slope
Red herring
Last-ditch effort
At first glance/at first blush
Fevered speculation
Begs the question
Visibly moved
Chock full
Eminently qualified
Lion’s share
Dilatory tactics
Turned a blind eye
Cut to the chase
Think outside the box
Point of no return
Vigorous dissent
Inextricably linked
Inextricably intertwined
Growing body of evidence
Can of worms
Strenuous objections
Part and parcel
Fraught with peril
Begs the question
Unfailingly courteous
Hedge a bet
In the final analysis
Abundance of caution
Remains to be seen
Full-blown evidentiary hearing
Second bite at the apple
No stone unturned
Game-changer
In a nutshell
Fall through the cracks
Shines a spotlight on
Pulled out of whole cloth
Avoid like the plague
Tip of the iceberg
Opened Pandora’s Box
Exceptions carved out

About the author:

gordonA former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco. She is the author of Cheer: A Novel, which is available on Amazon. She can be reached via email at leslie.gordon@stanfordalumni.org. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @LAGordonWriter.