[Clarity for Lawyers, 3rd edn]

Clarity for Lawyers

3rd edition

by Mark Adler and Daphne Perry
Published by The Law Society of England and Wales
October 2017
Paperback: 234 mm x 156 mm
xvi + 270 pages
Undiscounted price: £34.95

The 3rd edition's dedicated website has:

2nd edition

Publication details

Published by The Law Society of England and Wales, 2006
xxii and 200 pages; paperback
234 mm x 156 mm
ISBN 1 85328 985 X


Second-hand copies are still available from the usual sources.

Publisher's summary

The traditional style of legal drafting has been widely discredited over the last 40 years, and clear, modern English is now increasingly required by law and by clients. But few lawyers are able to produce it.

Mark Adler debunks the myth that legalese is precise and explains, with many before-and-after examples, how lawyers can increase their efficiency, profits, and client approval while making their documents more reliable.

This second edition is 'a treasure house' (according to Lord Bingham's foreword) and 'entertaining. More than once I was caught laughing out loud while reading it' (according to one reviewer).

It has been thoroughly revised, updated and expanded to include new sections on ambiguity, vagueness, miscuing, and editing, as well as advice about communication via emails and websites, persuasive writing, and the rules of interpretation. The book also contains a helpful range of precedents written in plain English, including a simple will, memorandum of association, and divorce petition.

Adler's entertaining style informed by his extensive experience in practice and teaching makes this a reader-friendly, practical, and insightful book.


The purpose of this book (p. xvii)
Foreword to the 2nd edition (by Lord Bingham of Cornhill) (p. xi)
Legalese wastes time … and money (pp. 5-7)
Fashionable expressions and clichés (pp. 116-119) Added 20.4.11
Precedent 4: Explanation to clients (joint tenancy) Added 30.8.13

What the critics said

1st edition

Scribes Journal of Legal Writing (Vol 2: 1991)

In Clarity for Lawyers, Adler has managed to create a clever, inventive, and practical guide to legal writing. Adler approaches each topic in the same sensible way. He presents an example of deplorable legal prose and then analyzes it in a readable list, discussing each writing problem and providing suggestions for change. The book has an excellent page layout, with plenty of white space and a variety of fonts that clearly differentiate the examples from the text.

One possible problem with the book is its haphazard organization. Adler candidly confesses that he has never had the patience to plan, and the book manifests this trait. The first two chapters, for example, are entitled "what is wrong with legal writing?" and "How not to write". Although the organizational flaws might make the book slightly inconvenient for use in a legal-writing course, they are not a significant obstacle to understanding.

The book's distinctively British flavor may distract some American readers. For example, Adler uses words such as spoilt and whilst and follows British rules for punctuation and relative pronouns. But Adler is a skilful writer with a wry sense of humor. He weaves into his text clever puns, delightful parodies, and expressive metaphors. An unpretentious slender volume, Clarity for Lawyers brims with wit and colorful language.

Legal Action

This book is a solid, readable and interesting contribution to the move for greater intelligibility by lawyers. Mark Adler's key lists of forbidden phrases and their replacements should be circulated as widely as possible. These include buried verbs (eg substitute 'I have' or 'I have received' for 'I am in receipt of'); redundant words (use 'before' instead of 'prior to'); removal of useless additional words (eg no need to put 'mutually' in front of 'agreed'); and use the shortest word (eg 'buy' for 'purchase').

The rest of the book is full of helpful hints, browsing among which would benefit almost all lawyers. Active verbs are better than passive ones. Short sentences are better than long ones. It is written in a nice breezy style, as one would expect from the chairman of Clarity.

Journal of the Association of Law Teachers

A problem for those writing about clear writing is that readers of their work will take a closely critical look at it in the hope that the authors themselves can be accused of lack of clarity or, even better, be found to have used short and simple sentences which can be seen as ambiguous. Mark Adler is not open to these charges. Not only is the book well written throughout but it proceeds in a clear and sensible order. What is more the layout of the pages makes great efforts to add to clarity by a proper use of white space and a justifiable attempt at using different type faces.

2nd edition

Scribes Journal of Legal Writing (Vol 11: 2007)

Although Adler's primary audience is British, all English-speaking lawyers will find much to interest them. In the opening chapters, Adler not only explains why legalese is obstructive — even destructive — but also gives ample illustrations of his points. He devotes the rest of the book to advice on how to produce effective legal writing by using plain language, paying attention to punctuation, and considering who a document's readers are, always with clear analyses of traditional legal writing and plain language equivalents. To expand on select points, Adler also presents advice from other authorities on legal language, such as David Mellinkoff, Robert Eagleson, and Joseph Kimble; the additional advice is always useful. For anyone who's still afraid to write legal documents in plain English, this book is an excellent place to start. As stated in volume 2 of the Scribes Journal, in a review of the first edition, "Adler has...create[d] a clever, inventive, and practical guide to legal writing."

Tiger Jackson and Jeff Newman, associates, Lawprose Inc.

Clarity (57: May 2007)

Clarity for Lawyers is a practical book, written for lawyers by a lawyer. As you would expect, it's well written and easy to understand. As you might not expect, it's also entertaining. (More than once I was caught laughing out loud while reading it.) I think it will appeal to practising lawyers of all backgrounds and experience levels.

Marco Stella, Special Counsel (Know How), Mallesons Stephen Jacques

The Surrey Lawyer

All lawyers need this book…. I suggest you read 'Adler on Clarity', starting at the beginning when Mr Adler writes that "this book is intended to give lawyers a better life". It does just that! The book succeeds in doing so brilliantly, and in a friendly manner. Adler has drawn from highly authoritative sources to make his point, including comments from the late Professor John Adams, acknowledging a list of distinguished personal contributors, and Lord Bingham's acute observation that "you cannot write clearly unless you know clearly what it is you want to say"….

I see Clarity for Lawyers as a publication to be recommended in publications such as Which magazine, and its organisation, the Consumers' Association, plus all the consumer groups trying to establish modern rules of writing "fit for purpose" (an unfortunate phrase) in the twenty-first century….

Probably the greatest benefit to lawyers are the working examples throughout showing how legalese can be rewritten into plain English. The examples are taken from Adler's extensive experience in practice and in teaching.... From what I have seen of this book, and it needs to be read over with care, it is highly suitable for the Bar course as well and has relevance to a much wider audience for its reader-friendly style. All interviewees should read it, too.

Phillip Taylor, barrister, book review editor, The Barrister


How many mistakes? (pp 10 and 13)paddingAdded 6.8.11
Severing joint tenancies (p 131)paddingAdded 3.5.11

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