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Sharpen Your Writing by Using the Right Words

Lawyers are expected to be master wordsmiths. This is true whether speaking before the court, or when conducting research and writing. In a previous post, I mentioned that when working with clients that it was important to avoid legalese. Here, I list words that are commonly misused (yes, even by lawyers):


Is the difference a percent or percentage? Let’s say you are negotiating a deal and started at “10%” and opposing counsel agrees to reduce the rate by 1%. What are you taking back to your client: 9% or 9.99%?

Percent refers to a relative increase or reduction, while percentage point refers to the actual change in rate.

If you mean to tell your client 9% loan instead of the original 10%, you have negotiated for a reduction of 1 percentage point. Make sure you know the difference in meaning—and approve of the difference.


I can represent you, but because of ethics rules, I may not.

Can is used to indicate what is possible. May is used to indicate what is permissible. (So, the sentence above is fine). “You can not represent them without clearance,” sounds great and gets the message across—but it’s technically incorrect. You certainly caneven though they shouldn’t.


Do you “anticipate” a particular result? No, you don’t. To anticipate means to look ahead and prepare. So, you can anticipate increased odds or results, but only if you are also making preparations.

So, the correct use would be: “We drafted a memo in anticipation of litigation.”

An incorrect use would be: “We anticipate a phone call.”


“Irregardless” doesn’t get caught by spellchecker and even appears in some dictionaries simply because it’s used so often. Irregardless is used to mean without regard to or without respect to, which is what “regardless” means. The “-ir” means “not,” joined up with “regardless,” which means without regard to, makes irregardless mean “not without regard to,” or more simply, “with regard to,” which is clearly not what you mean.

So just say, “regardless.”

Waiver v. Waver

Signing a waiver (noun), means the signer gives up the right to make a claim.

To waver (verb), means to be hesitant.

A correct use of both words: you can wave to advise your client to sign a waiver.

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