Clearly, the word should be avoided.

Thom Lambert —  6 February 2007

I learned many wonderful lessons from the judge for whom I clerked. One of those was to avoid using the word “clearly” when making legal arguments. “Clearly,” the judge insisted, is a crutch word lawyers tend to use when the answer is far from clear (e.g., “my client clearly deserves to win under this test”). The judge would regularly excise the word clearly from his law clerks’ drafts, and he even instructed us to keep count of the “clearlies” used in oral argument. (The record the year I clerked was something like 20.) While the judge’s anti-clearly stance struck me as eccentric at the time, I now think he was on to something.

Chief Justice Roberts, it seems, is also an anti-clearlyist. (Or is it anti-clearlyan?)

Thom Lambert


I am a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School. I teach antitrust law, business organizations, and contracts. My scholarship focuses on regulatory theory, with a particular emphasis on antitrust.

4 responses to Clearly, the word should be avoided.


    Long ago, a partner for whom I did a lot of work told me that “clearly” usually meant that the statement in question was wrong, and that even if it was right, the writer (or speaker) would be unable to cite anything to support it. Seems right.


    That is absolutely a truly fantastic point, Tuan.


    Greetings from Las Vegas. Fine point. I’d even extend the rule to most adverbs. Rhetoricians say adverbs require an audience to trust the orator’s character and judgment. Unless the speaker is without blemish and enjoys the adjudicator’s trust, best to offer an argument.

    One tactic for dissecting an opponent’s brief is to circle all the adverbs and adjectives of judgment. Often they hide underdeveloped arguments.


    To me, the word itself is not at fault, but rather the assumption that it can substitute precise argumentation 🙂