SLU Writing Corner: Grammatically Challenged
by Kelly Mulholland and Laura Schulz, Assistant Professors of Legal Writing, Saint Louis University School of Law, St. Louis
I am a new attorney in a transactional law practice. My supervisor reviewed my first attempt at drafting a contract and wrote in big, red letters on my draft: “Please revise this contract to be gender neutral.” My new supervisor tells me that it is no longer considered appropriate to use the masculine form “he” with the assumption that both genders are included. This use of “he” to refer to “she” also is considered “old-fashioned.” I’ve tried using “he or she” or “he/she” instead but then my contract doesn’t read as well and frankly seems awkward. Any tips on how to draft in a gender-free manner without bogging down my contract?
Dear Seeking to be Gender Free,
Gender-free writing became an issue in legal writing decades ago and still remains so. While old-timers still may tell you that using “he” to refer to both sexes in a legal document is fine, many readers, including most female attorneys and judges and many male attorneys and judges too, will find your documents offensive or, at a minimum, distracting if you do use only “he.” However, as you have found out, drafting legal documents can be awkward if both “he” and “she” and “him” and “her” are used every time a pronoun is required.
Luckily, there are a number of options available to an attorney trying to use gender-free language. One way to avoid using gender-specific pronouns is to use an article (such as “the” or “this”) instead of a pronoun. For example, “A young attorney should use gender-free language to please his supervisor” becomes “A young attorney should use gender-free language to please the supervisor.” Another approach is to use a plural noun so that a plural pronoun can be substituted for the noun. Thus, “Young attorneys should use gender-free language to please their supervisors.”
In addition, consider using an indefinite pronoun (such as “any,” “both,” “each,” “many,” “one,” “several,” and “some”). For instance, “A young attorney should use gender-free language to please some supervisors.”
Lastly, when referring to a type of an individual, use gender-neutral titles. For example, policeman, chairman, foreman, and workman become police officer, chairperson, foreperson, and worker.
Although it can be a challenge to write in a gender-free way, try using some of these techniques in your contract to minimize awkwardness. You will make your supervisor happy and avoid risking offending subsequent readers who may find gender-specific writing offensive or distracting.