Over-simplified writing advice, 1

Part 1 of 4

My books: Legal Writing Nerd: Be One, Plain Legal Writing: Do It

I recently read some writing advice offered by a capable lawyer with 10 years’ experience. The advice was offered in absolute terms, and I thought it was oversimplified. Here’s the advice with my own take.

“Never use adverbs.”

You can’t follow this advice literally. It’s not possible to write a memo or motion or brief and never use an adverb.[1] Based on the examples the lawyer gave, what the lawyer probably meant was something more like avoid over-using adverbs. But for a sophisticated legal writer, even that advice is too simple. I’d offer something more like don’t overuse intensifiers and qualifiers in legal writing.

I’ve written about intensifiers (clearly, extremely, blatantly):

and a modified version of those three posts appeared in a Michigan Bar Journal article

I’ve also written about using qualifiers (probably, somewhat, typically):

My view is that for high-caliber, sophisticated legal writing, absolute prohibitions aren’t the best advice. Inform yourself about the advice, consider your audience and purpose, and exercise your editorial judgment.

My books: Legal Writing Nerd: Be One, Plain Legal Writing: Do It


[1] In fact, in an example legal document the lawyer displayed for some other point, there were three adverbs in the first four sentences. All three uses were appropriate; I’m just pointing out that it’s not reasonable to advise, “Never use adverbs.”