Deciphering That Vs Which In Legal Drafting

Legal writing is a highly specialized and technical form of written communication. As such, it requires a deep understanding of language, including the nuances of grammar and syntax. One of the most common debates in legal drafting is whether to use "that" or "which" when writing a sentence. While these two words may seem interchangeable, they actually have distinct meanings and usage in law language. In this article, we will explore the differences between "that" and "which" in legal terminology and how to choose the right one for your legal compositions.

"That and Which" Legal Drafting: Understanding the Difference

In the world of legal writing, even the smallest grammatical errors or word choices can have a significant impact on the meaning and validity of a document. This is especially true when it comes to the use of “that” and “which”. These two words may seem similar, but in the world of law, they have distinct differences that can affect the interpretation of contracts, regulations, and other legal documents.

Whether you are new to legal writing or have years of experience, understanding the difference between “that” and “which” is crucial for creating accurate and effective legal documents. In this article, we will dive into the nuances of these two words and explore their usage in legal drafting.

Comparing “That” vs “Which” in Legal Writing

The main difference between “that” and “which” is their function in a sentence. While both are used to introduce a relative clause (a phrase that modifies a noun or pronoun), they have distinct meanings and usages.

The word “that” is used to introduce essential information that is important for the meaning of a sentence. It helps define and narrow down the subject or object that is being discussed. For example, “The contract that was signed last week is now binding” indicates that out of all contracts, the one signed last week is the one that is binding.

On the other hand, “which” is used to introduce non-essential information that provides additional details about the subject or object. It can be omitted from the sentence without changing its overall meaning. For instance, “The new office chair, which was delivered yesterday, is very comfortable” implies that the office chair is comfortable, regardless of whether the delivery information is included or not.

In legal drafting, “that” is typically used when defining, identifying, or limiting a specific term or provision in a contract, statute, or regulation. It helps to clarify and specify the intended meaning to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation. “Which,” on the other hand, is often used to provide additional information that is not essential to the understanding of the document. However, it can also be used in some cases to limit or define a term, depending on the context.

“That” or “Which”: Legal Terminology

When it comes to legal terminology, both “that” and “which” have significant implications on the interpretation and validity of a document. In some instances, using one over the other can completely change the meaning of a sentence, which can have serious legal consequences.

The general rule in legal writing is to use “that” when referring to a subject or object that is essential to the understanding of a sentence. This is especially important when drafting contracts, as the inclusion or exclusion of “that” can make a difference in the parties’ obligations and responsibilities. For example, consider the following sentence: “The seller agrees to provide goods that comply with all applicable laws and regulations.” The use of “that” here indicates that the seller must provide goods that meet all legal requirements. Without “that,” the sentence could be interpreted as the seller having the option to provide goods that may not comply with applicable laws and regulations.

Similar to contracts, “that” is also crucial in statutes and regulations, as it helps define and limit the scope of a law. For instance, “It is unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony to possess firearms that were used in the commission of the crime” clarifies that only the specific firearms used in the crime are prohibited, rather than all firearms in general.

On the other hand, “which” is more commonly used in legal writing to provide additional information or details. For instance, “The court, which has jurisdiction over this matter, will make a final decision” highlights that the court’s jurisdiction is not essential to the understanding of the sentence, but rather serves as supplementary information. However, in some cases, “which” can also be used to limit or define a term, especially when preceded by a comma. For example, “The insurance policy, which includes damage from natural disasters, will cover any losses.” In this case, “which” defines the scope of the insurance policy and specifies the types of damages that are covered.

Understanding “That” versus “Which” in Law Language

In law language, precision and accuracy are of utmost importance. Therefore, understanding when to use “that” versus “which” is crucial for creating clear and unambiguous legal documents.

One useful tip for distinguishing “that” and “which” is to remember that “that” introduces essential information, while “which” introduces non-essential information. When proofreading your legal writing, ask yourself if the information following “that” is crucial to the meaning of the sentence. If the answer is yes, then you are using it correctly. If the answer is no, then consider using “which” instead.

In some cases, “that” and “which” can be interchangeable, and the decision often comes down to personal preference. However, when dealing with legal terminology, it is imperative to use the correct word to ensure that the intended meaning is clear and precise. It is always best to err on the side of caution and carefully consider the impact of each word choice in your legal drafting.

Choosing Between “That” and “Which” in Legal Composition

When it comes to choosing between “that” and “which” in legal composition, there is no hard and fast rule. It ultimately depends on the context and what you are trying to convey in your writing. The best approach is to carefully consider the intended meaning of each sentence and determine which word accurately reflects that meaning.

In addition to understanding the function and usage of “that” and “which,” it is also essential to pay attention to punctuation when incorporating these words into your legal writing. In most cases, “that” does not require commas, while “which” is typically preceded by a comma. However, as mentioned earlier, when preceded by a comma, “which” can be used to define or limit a term. Therefore, it is crucial to pay close attention to the placement of punctuation when using these words in your legal documents.


In summary, “that” and “which” may seem like small and insignificant words, but in the world of legal writing, their usage can make a significant impact on the interpretation and validity of a document. As such, it is crucial to understand the difference between these words and use them correctly in your legal drafting. Remember, “that” introduces essential information, while “which” introduces non-essential information. With careful consideration and practice, you can become proficient in using these words accurately and effectively in your legal writing.

For more information on proper legal writing techniques and tips, check out Shipping Solutions for Essential Office Supplies. This comprehensive guide covers everything from contract drafting to business writing, helping you take your legal writing skills to the next level.

In conclusion, the use of "that" and "which" in legal drafting can greatly impact the clarity and precision of a legal document. While both words have similar functions, they have distinct differences that make understanding their usage crucial for lawyers and professionals in the legal field. After comparing the nuances between "that" and "which" in legal writing, it is clear that proper use of these terms can have significant consequences on the interpretation and validity of a legal document. It is important to understand the legal terminology and techniques used in different contexts to effectively communicate legal information. Therefore, making informed decisions when choosing between "that" and "which" in legal composition is essential in producing accurate and effective legal documents. With this knowledge, legal professionals can confidently navigate the complexities of language in the legal field and ensure their documents are precise and legally sound.


  • calvinmerritt

    Calvin Merritt is an educational bloger who specializes in writing about educational topics. He has been writing for over a decade and has written for a variety of different platforms. His work has been featured on various websites and he has also been published in various magazines.