Legalese

Welcome to Above the Law’s newest feature, Fun With Fine Print. This occasional column will chronicle especially clever or awful examples of legalese, fine print, disclaimers, disclosures, and the like. Our readers who spend so much time toiling over contractual language, drafting it beforehand or litigating it after the fact, will hopefully appreciate — and contribute to — this feature.

We’ll start things off with an example of infamous fine print. Earlier this year, Subway got torpedoed over its regrettable response to a customer complaint. After Australian teenager Matt Corby complained that his “footlong” Subway sub was a mere eleven inches, Subway invoked the following fine print: “With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, ‘SUBWAY FOOTLONG’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length.” Personally speaking, I think eleven inches is more than enough — but based on the uproar and litigation, maybe I’m in the minority.

Now let’s look at legalese worth celebrating, for its cleverness and its clarity. It also comes from a fast-food provider….

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In case you don’t know by now, many lawyers — maybe even you — enjoy writing cease and desist letters in a foreign language called legalese. This exotic tongue often contains Latin phrases, SAT vocabulary words, and various here-and-there words (e.g., herein, heretofore, hereinafter, hereunder, thereof, thereto, therewith, thereunder, therefor, thereon, and therefrom).

A person unfamiliar with legalese may become frightened and run to another attorney for help in deciphering this mystical language of lawyerly legend. The lawyer who has been tasked with translating legalese to English may then become annoyed, and issue a scathingly funny letter in return.

For an example of a great response to a cease and desist letter, keep reading….

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