Why Grammar Is Important

Your lawyer wrote a sentence in a legal document referring to “my sister’s, D.Z. Kaufman’s, partner”. Who is being referred to? The partner of my lawyer’s sister? The partner of your sister? Your lawyer’s sister is your partner? Your sister is your lawyer’s partner? My partner who is not my sister? My sister’s partner? Some other person? Maybe I should write it as “my, D.Z. Kaufman’s, sister’s partner?” Clearly it can be very confusing. Worse, you could end up describing the wrong person.

But there are solutions. One is to define who are the people are at the beginning of the document. Lot’s of lawyers do that. But it can make the document really boring to read. Another solution is to break it into several sentences: “I am D.Z. Kaufman. My sister is Amy. Amy’s partner is Sarah. Sarah …” Another solution is: “My sister Amy’s partner, Sarah, …” Another solution is to drop all the family relationships entirely and just discuss “Sarah.” The choice can be important depending on what you (the client) want to do.

That’s why grammar and precision are so important. It’s also why lawyers, many times, are excessively precise. Finally, it’s why a lot of legal documents can seem silly. But if you are not sufficiently precise, a brawl will start the minute people start looking at what was actually written, not what was intended.

Call me when the fun starts.

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