39 words and phrases to delete from your factum


What did the judge or panel really think about your latest submission? Wouldn’t you love to know? Aside from the odd reference to “counsel’s helpful written submissions”, it’s usually a mystery. 

That’s why it’s kind of thrilling when a judge speaks publicly about legal writing.

Okay, well I find it kind of thrilling.

Two of Canada’s most celebrated former jurists have written useful articles on writing. They favour using plain language and avoiding arcane legalese. They’ve provided a useful guide to “what not to do”. These articles aren’t particularly new, but the advice remains timely. Read on, then go back to your document and do some deleting.

The Honourable John I. Laskin 

For Canadian lawyers, the most famous article by a judge on legal writing is the Honourable John I. Laskin’s Forget the Windup and Make the Pitch: Some Suggestions for Writing More Persuasive Factums*.

Recently retired from the Ontario Court of Appeal, Justice Laskin was known for his excellent writing. His entire article is worth reading (and re-reading), but if you’re short on time, here’s something that’s really easy to change. Avoid using these words and phrases:

False intensifiers:

  • Completely wrong

  • Absolutely

  • Unfounded

  • Very serious error

  • Clearly

  • Certainly 

  • It is important to note that

  • Blatant violation

Backhanded passive:

  • It is urged that

  • It would seem to appear that

  • It is suggested that

  • It should be pointed out that

"The fact that” phrases:    

  • Notwithstanding the fact that

  • Due to the fact that

Dreaded couplets:

  • Null and void

  • Cease and desist

  • Due and payable

  • Free and clear

  • Force and effect

Legal Jargon 

  • Hereinafter

  • Herein

  • Inter alia**

  • The said

  • Prior to

  • Subsequent to

  • The construction of a statute (as opposed to the preferable “interpretation of”)

  • Mandates (in place of “requires")

  • Utilize (instead of “use")

  • Terminate (instead of “end")

  • Necessitate (instead of "need")

  • Remuneration (instead of “salary, wages or pay”)

  • Adjacent to (instead of "next to")

  • Provided that (instead of “if”)

  • Pursuant to (instead of “under”)

The Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin 

Canada’s former Chief Justice is also known as a good writer. She was even featured in Ross Guberman’s 2014 book, Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges (I haven’t read it yet but this review by Wendy McGuire Coats makes me want to). 

In 2001, Justice McLachlin contributed Legal Writing: Some Tools to the Alberta Law Review.

She, too, discussed words and phrases for lawyers to avoid. There’s a bit of overlap with Justice Laskin’s piece (on which she relies), but I’ve included all of them: 

Jargon that gets in the way of communication:

  • Hereinafter

  • Generally

  • Subject to

Arcane phrases:

  • Subsequent to

  • Utilize 

  • Inter alia**

  • Until such time as

  • Notwithstanding the fact that

Redundant legal phrases:

  • Cease and desist

  • Due and payable

  • Good and sufficient

  • Null and void  

It can be difficult to avoid all of these (see my second note below), but I plan to keep the list next to my screen for the next little while.


* Yes, Justice Laskin wrote “factums” not “facta”. Apparently, that’s the correct way to do it. Am I the only one who didn’t know that? I learned about it on Twitter, of all places, a few days ago. It has something to do with the fact that “factum” has French origins (unlike “memorandum”, which is Latin).

** Anyone else surprised to see “inter alia” on both lists? I’m a fan of inter alia! It’s shorter than its English equivalent ("among other things") and its meaning is commonly known, as long as you're writing for a legal audience. Anybody with me?

Additional Reading

For more on plain language legal writing: