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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Legal Writing Tip: Go-To Words Are Good to Go


By Leslie A. Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor


If you write a lot – and we lawyers do – you may find that you have certain go-to words and phrases that you use over and over again. This, as Martha would say, is a good thing. Relying on the same effective words streamlines the writing process and goes a long way towards repeated success. I’ll share some of my favorites, as well as the go-to words of a few attorney friends I polled.

My own most used word is specifically. Beginning sentences with specifically forces me to deepen my analysis. Similarly (and that’s in italics because it’s another one of my favorites), I frequently begin sentences with “for example,” which reminds me to make my points more vivid for the reader by including anecdotes and cases in point.

A few more:

Not surprisingly

Not so. (An efficient two-word sentence with a definite tone.)

Provided that (Offering, as one friend said, “a clear signal that there’s an exception to what was just stated.”)

Not surprisingly (!), many of lawyers’ choice words are transitions, which are short-hand ways of guiding – and influencing – the reader.

Some favorites:

And (Forget what your middle school English teacher taught you – starting sentences with and is permitted.)

But, However

As a result, Accordingly

In addition to, Furthermore

Therefore (As one friend said, “Using therefore allows me to refer specifically to something I just said without repeating it.”)

Finally (another gem, signaling the last in a series), two general counsel friends identified as a favorite the exact same introductory phrase: “Notwithstanding the foregoing.” They use it so that, as one of them explained, “I can essentially cancel out something undesirable that someone else has written!”

Send me some of your go-to words. Perhaps I’ll gather enough for a second column on this topic.


A former lawyer, Leslie A. Gordon is a freelance journalist living in San Francisco.

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