LawProse Lesson #173: “On behalf of” and “in behalf of”

LawProse Lesson #173: “On behalf of” and “in behalf of”

On behalf of and in behalf of. On behalf of stalwart stylists everywhere, I write in behalf of maintaining the traditional distinction between these phrases. Careful writers distinguish between them. To act or speak in behalf of someone is to independently promote that person’s interest, praise, or defense—or to act on one’s own for that person’s benefit {the employees picketed in behalf of the fired executive} {students spoke in behalf of the professor at the retirement party} {fight in behalf of justice for the wrongfully accused}. By contrast, to act or speak on behalf of someone is to act as that person’s agent or representative {she accepted the award on behalf of the committee} {the lawyer acted on behalf of her client when she signed the document} {on behalf of our board of directors, I would like to thank the event’s sponsors}. As mentioned in the lesson about on vs. upon (LawProse Lesson #171), upon behalf of is stylistically inferior to the simpler on behalf of {the motion was filed upon behalf of [read on behalf of] Mr. Albright}. And using a possessive instead of a bulkier of-phrase is likewise a stylistic improvement if the word denoting the person or thing being acted for isn’t impractically long. For instance, in the above example, “the lawyer acted on her client’s behalf” is superior to “on behalf of her client.” Yet “fight in behalf of justice for the wrongfully accused” is surely best left as it is. To avoid the issue altogether, in many instances you can replace on behalf of with for {the president signed for the corporation} {the lawyer appeared in court for her client}. What’s really bad is this common airline announcement: “On behalf of myself and the rest of the crew . . . .” It should be, “Along with the rest of the crew, I’d like to say . . .” or some such wording. There’s no behoof in speaking on your own behalf. Further reading: Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 106 (3d ed. 2011). Garner’s Modern American Usage 94 (3d ed. 2009). Black’s Law Dictionary 184 (10th ed. 2014). The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style § 12.3, at 296 (3d ed. 2013). Thanks to Colleen L. Sahlas for suggesting this topic.

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