A Law Firm that Forbids Use of “Shall”?—Addendum

In this post I described how I had heard someone cite by name some companies and one law firm—a multi-office U.S. law firm—that had foresworn use of shall. Well, recently I had the privilege of giving a series of seminars at that law firm, and I was tickled to be able to ask two senior corporate partners whether their firm had in fact issued an edict against use of shall. They were mightily puzzled by the notion.

So to reiterate, you should be very skeptical of pronouncements that such-and-such law firm or company has banned use of shall in its contracts, unless the person speaking is from that law firm or company.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

7 thoughts on “A Law Firm that Forbids Use of “Shall”?—Addendum”

  1. Drafting gurus provide a surprising amount of contrary advice on whether to use shall, will, or some other term.

    On the one hand, I took a drafting course a few weeks ago and the professor told me unequivocally that drafters should use "shall" and not "will" because "will" might be interpreted to be merely predictive instead of mandatory.

    On the other hand, Bryan A. Garner says unequivocally that drafters should not ever use "shall" both because it is not plain English and because "[i]n just about every jurisdiction, courts have held that shall can mean not just must and may, but also will and is." Legal Writing in Plain English 104 (emphasis and citations removed).

  2. What I find particularly aggravating is the use of ‘will’ and ‘shall’ interchangeably. It is bad enough when ‘will’ appears where ‘shall’ belongs, but they are not synonymous. As I believe I may have mentioned in an earlier e-mail, the grammarian who falls overboard is unlikely to call out “I will be drowned and no-one shall save me!” rather than “I shall be drowned and no-one will save me!”

    If we are going to be ungrammatical, let us at least be consistent

  3. With respect to S’s post, I don’t believe that Garner advocates unequivocally against the use “shall,” which some drafters carelessly use in the same document to mean “must,” “may,” or “will”. I believe his position, which is based on the potential problems that this poor technique can cause in any subsequent litigation, is more properly characterized as a recommendation against its use. If it is used, he suggests that its use be restricted only to mean “has a duty to” in order to maintain consistency throughout the document. As Ken’s Manual details in several sections, the word “shall” does have value. But, its utility is too often abused and, frankly, as exceedingly tiresome as it is to read sentence after sentence of “shalls”, it is exceeding annoying to read sentence after sentence of “shalls” that jump all over the place in meaning.

  4. Craig: Trust me on this one: Bryan Garner is an anti-shall absolutist. I’ve spoken with him about this. Ken


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