Although only a select few legal writers know they exist, usage guides help anyone navigate the tributaries of legal language. Since it first appeared in 1987, Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage (GDLU) has been cited in more than 1,000 appellate opinions in state and federal courts. In the field of legal usage, nothing else has come close—especially in the current third edition.
If you’re wondering whether to use blood spatter or blood splatter, comprised or composed, continual or continuous, malfeasance or misfeasance, penal or punitive, GDLU has long been the source. When you need guidance on the nuances of dishonest, deceitful, lying, untruthful, and mendacious, here you have it. If you’re interested in the history and current use of indemnify vs. hold harmless—the story is astonishing—GDLU is your source. It contains loads of English legal history.
But now, for the first time, there’s a British counterpart to GDLU: Peter Butt’s new book The Lawyer’s Style Guide (2021), put out by Hart Publishing in Oxford. It reflects much the same literary sensibility as GDLU, but its references to caselaw are almost all from the UK and Commonwealth countries. Among the hundreds of interesting entries are as the crow flies, boilerplate, eggshell, good reason (cf. GDLU‘s good cause shown), precedence clause, and without prejudice.
On this last term, Professor Butt states: “Research indicates that many non-lawyers misunderstand without prejudice. Their (mis)conceptions range from believing that a binding contract cannot arise from accepting the terms of a without prejudice letter, to believing that a lawyer writing a letter headed ‘Without prejudice’ is acting impartially. Of course, no misunderstanding should occur where a lawyer uses without prejudice in correspondence with another lawyer—lawyers should know its meaning. But to use the term in correspondence to non-lawyers is apt to mislead.” He then shows how to prevent misunderstandings.
Why promote a competitor to GDLU? We see it more as an ally than a competitor. For the legal writer who seeks genuine knowledge, you’ll benefit from both.