Legalese – Celebrating the Incomprehensible

LegaleseYep I wanted a theme this week – and legalese is it!  Welcome to our week dedicated to all things incomprehensible in the law.  We’re going to look at legal writing and communication skills designed specifically to help you be one of those lawyers that nobody can understand.  I shall be doing my best to ensure that the content this week packed with dense, long-winded and unnecessarily complicated sentences.  Enjoy!


For the uninitiated, “legalese” is the peculiar language ascribed to certain members of the legal profession when, inter alia, those individuals tend towards behaviours which might, viewed from the non-lawyer, could be perceived as being unintelligible to the lay person but when, combined with a knowledge of legal jargon and terminology, can be distilled into a particular message.

Put another way?  Legalese is what lawyers default to when they forget their proper language.

You probably know already that I’m a fan of writing properly – well this week we’re going to walk on the other side of the tracks.

Where Did Legalese Come from?

I guess I could research this, but I prefer to make something up.

You see, for a long while lawyers were the most educated, and therefore the most useful with words.  As time went on, lawyers developed their own language, terminology and sentence structure.  Personally I think this was party inadvertent, and partly deliberate.

The inadvertent Legalese comes from university and study.  You see, while training to be a lawyer we read judgments, statutes, and other documents which have little bearing on how normal people write to or speak with each other.

As a result,  we create this mental picture of “how lawyers write” (it’s normally writing where the problem is, but not always).  In our heads, lawyers are those who sit high atop the mountain, developing and pronouncing articulate expressions of a profound nature.  So when the time comes to start writing, we naturally copy the style of that which we know best – judgments and statutes.

Deliberate Legalese comes from our ego.  After spending a small fortune on our legal education and immersing ourselves in the great cases of history it’s difficult for us to accept that we should let go of all that and just communicate normally.  Our egos require us to have become something improved – something better – than those around us.  After all, what was the point of all that reading and all those assignments if now we’re supposed to just communicate exactly the same way we used to?

Your Participation in The Legalese Celebration

I need your help to make this week a success.  As far as I know, nobody in the history of the world has ever run “legalese week” before (ok – I didn’t really check or anything).  However, to make this week a success I really need you to do any or all of the following:

  1. Read all the articles this week – they should be fun
  2. Share the legalese celebration posts using the buttons below

The fundamentals of legalese are here.

Check out the rest of the Legalese Series:

Enter the Legalese Longest Sentence Competition

Give it your best shot.  Comment in any of the Legalese Celebration posts with your most convoluted, tortuous sentence – it has to mean something, but if I don’t need to read it 3 times to understand what, then you’re not trying hard enough.

Is there a prize?  Of course – you get the glory of having the most complex brain out of all your colleagues!

Should be a fun week.

Happy Lawyering!


  • While I do, to a great but still limited extent, greatly appreciate the various and numerous nuances which make up the linguistic art of legalese, I do unequivocally state, declare, and affirm my experience-based assertion that using such language both inhibits and hinders the scope, ability, and potential (both theoretical and practical) of individuals earning their living in the legal profession (whether they be attorneys or an alternative form of legal professional) to relate to clients, potential clients, former clients, family members of clients, family members of potential clients, and family members of former clients in way which portrays the legal professional (and all variations of the legal professional previously stated in this sentence, which I hereby incorporate by reference) as one who is both personable and understandable.

  • >