The University of Chicago Press,
Exercises from LEGAL WRITING IN PLAIN ENGLISH, Bryan A. Garner

§ 40. If you don't understand a form provision--or don't understand why it should be included in your document--try diligently to gain that understanding. If you still can't understand it, cut it.



Decide whether you think the provisions described below have any real meaning. If you're part of a writing group or class, be prepared to defend your position.

  • No savings and loan holding company, directly or indirectly, or through one or more transactions, shall . . . acquire control of an uninsured institution or retain, for more than one year after other than an insured institution or holding company thereof, the date any insured institution subsidiary becomes uninsured, control of such institution. [12 CFR § 584.4(b).]
  • "Spouse" is defined as the person to whom the Cardholder is legally married or the person with whom the Cardholder is cohabiting as husband and wife and has been cohabiting for at least two years provided that where there is a legally undissolved marriage and the Cardholder is cohabiting with a person as husband and wife and has been so cohabiting for at least two years, the spouse is the person with whom the Cardholder has been cohabiting.
  • The 911 provider shall not impose, or fail to impose, on Company any requirement, service, feature, standard, or rate that is not required of the incumbent local exchange company.


Interview a lawyer who (1) has practiced transactional law for at least ten years, and (2) can recall a situation in which a provision relating to some other deal had meaninglessly crept into draft contracts where the provision didn't belong. Take specific notes on the interview. If you're part of a writing group or class, be prepared to report your findings.


Find a reported case in which a party has had to argue that a sentence or paragraph is essentially meaningless. Write a casenote. Decide whether you agree with the court's resolution of the issue. If you're part of a writing group or class, bring a copy of both the case and your casenote for each colleague.

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© 2001, Bryan A. Garner

These exercises appear in Bryan A. Garner's Legal Writing in Plain English: A Text with Exercises, published by The University of Chicago Press and available at bookstores and on the Web at