Simplify or omit dates and locations.

Include a date or location only when necessary and only to the extent necessary.

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Include dates and locations in your legal documents only when necessary and only to the extent necessary. For example, consider the sentence “Apple was founded on April 1, 1976, in Cupertino, CA.” Does the exact date of Apple’s founding matter? Does the city in which it was founded matter? If not, simplify. Write “Apple was founded in 1976” or “Apple was founded in California in 1976.”

Anytime you write a date, ask:

  1. Does this date matter to the reader?

  2. Can it be simplified by keeping just the month or year?

  3. If it’s an absolute date such as “March 31, 2021,” can it be replaced with a relative date such as “two weeks later”?

Here are some improvable examples of dates in legal filings:

Example

By way of background, respondent purportedly received a letter on May 30, 2013, from the Innocence Project.

(Replace on May 30, 2013 with in May 2013.)

Example

On or about February 24, 2014, the Borrower executed a Promissory Note effective as of February 25, 2014 (the ‘Note’) whereby the Borrower promised to pay to the order of Marn the principal sum of $ 750,000.00 with interest thereon computed from the effective date of the Note at the rate of 3.75% per annum (the ‘Loan’).

(Omit on or about; replace February 25, 2014 with the following day.)

Relative dates

After using an absolute date such as “June 10, 2020” to identify when a series of events begins, use relative dates to show additional points in time. Here are some good examples of using relative dates in legal filings.

Example

In June 2004, when Farha was copied on an internal routing form enclosing the cover letters and expense reports, he forwarded them to the lawyers. Bereday promptly responded that ‘our team has been activated on the BH expenditures.’  Two weeks later, Clarke sent Farha a legal memorandum regarding 80/20 reporting.

Example

More than sixteen months after filing its declaratory judgment action challenging 3M’s patents, TransWeb made a startling new allegation: it claimed that its president had publicly distributed samples of oil-resistant, plasma fluorinated respirator filter media (T-Melt P) at a trade show fifteen years earlier.

Finally, don’t say “on or about” if you know the exact date. Many legal writers habitually hedge their dates with that phrase, especially when drafting complaints. But you should only use words that serve some communicative purpose. If your auto accident complaint says that the accident occurred “on or about December 15, 2019,” you’re communicating that you couldn’t be bothered to learn the exact date on which the accident forming the basis of your lawsuit occurred.

These guidelines about simplifying dates and locations illustrate a broader principle: simplify your documents whenever possible. Rather than bombarding the reader with details, give the reader only the information they need to know to fulfill the document’s communicative purpose.


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Ryan McCarl (LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog) teaches Advanced Legal Writing at the UCLA School of Law and is also a partner at the law firm Rushing McCarl.