The most common word in 5 common law documents is exactly what you think

I miss spreadsheets. There was always something so nerdily fun about trying to work out why an Excel formula wasn’t giving the right result. I can even remember the code you typed in to older versions of Excel to get access to a cool flight simulator game. It was Excel 97 and the code was to press F5, then type X97:L97 and hit Enter. Then, you hit the tab key, then held Control and Shift, and clicked on the Chart Wizard button. You then got to fly a little plane around on company time. I should add, this was before Facebook and high speed internet and recaps of The Walking Dead minutes after it aired and me having friends. Ah, 2004, I miss you. Except for the no friends part.

Now, like all lawyers, I live in a world of words, and Word, and .doc, and .docx, and PDF and so on. Today, I reviewed several 150 page loan agreements because I get paid to do so (or am meant to get paid – PAY YOUR BILLS CLIENTS) and make very complex legal arguments on drafting. These include such gems as:

‘what you have drafted is not market standard and our client will not accept it’

and

‘you need to add the words “acting reasonably” to any clause that gives your client the right to take action against our client in this document’.

I know, law is so sexy. Who needs friends when I can use words like ‘henceforth’ and mean it.

Like my own speech patterns, where I seem to say ‘I don’t disagree’ and ‘greatly appreciated’ way too much, legal documents tend to have a number of phrases or words that crop up again and again, regardless of the type of document or transaction.

That got me wondering – what are the most commonly used words in some of the more widely used legal documents?  Hey, I’m bored, let me find out.

I have to set some ground rules for this experiment.

Firstly, I need to get a life after this. Seriously, what am I doing?

Secondly, particles like ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘an’ ‘its’ and so on are excluded from the count because, while useful, they are boring and probably expected to come up a lot of times. I also excluded ‘document’, ‘agreement’ and ‘deed’, as all these documents repeatedly say things like ‘this document’ or ‘this agreement’, so these words skew the results.

Thirdly, I will go with five documents I regularly see as part of my practice. There is no science to the selection of these documents, I just have them handy. They are:

  1. the Australasian Loan Market Association Syndicated Loan Agreement
  2. the New South Wales contract of sale of land, with what I consider to be some pretty standard special conditions
  3. A share purchase agreement for shares in an unlisted company
  4. A privacy policy for a major international company
  5. In the spirit of multinational relations, a US law governed aircraft leasing agreement. This is the longest, by the way. 459 pages of closely spaced, 10 size font, text with no formatting and little in the way of numbering or headings. Ah, America. Clear legal drafting must fall within the same category as the metric system for you guys – you have heard of it, but refuse to acknowledge it.

And the results are…

Want to guess?

Still reading this?!?! Thanks so much, I’m touched.

The top 3 words used in these sample documents are:

NUMBER THREE

In third place, with a total use across all 5 documents of 770 times is: other.

Yes, lawyers like to create options, alternatives and confusion. It’s how we justify charging so much per hour. So rather than saying ‘let’s go to the beach’, we will say ‘let’s go to the beach other than on a day that is a weekday other than when it is a holiday period other than when guests are staying with you for said holiday period. Other.’

SECOND PLACE

In second place (‘Second comes right after first’ – Buzz Aldren), with a total use across all 5 documents of 891 times is: under.

This one threw me for a bit, but then I took a look at the documents and they do say things like ‘under this clause’ quite a lot. It is wunderful.

FIRST PLACE

And our winner (seriously, you’re still reading?!), coming in with a massive total of 1,024 uses across the above 5 documents is: party

Everyone is a winner with party!!!!

Not that anyone ever invites me to their party *sniff*

FUN EXTRA BONUS

Just for fun, I ran the same test on just the US law document, to see whether there was a different outcome from that set out above. And the result? You’re not going to be surprised – the US loves their legal jargon:

In third place: indemnitee

Second place: trust

Most used word in my example US law document: participant

That third place is pure American. It did not come up once in any of the four Australian documents.

And, bizarrely, the words ‘erect’, ‘solicitation’ and ‘pubic’ (which I think is a typo, but given the source of this document, cannot be 100% sure), all arise once in the document. Those naughty Americans.

Happy Easter everyone. Thanks for all your support and peace, love and respect to you all.

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