Commas

Q. HELP! I’m arguing with a contract lawyer over this sentence: “The vendor may use the board’s logo on its website and on documents, provided, that such use . . .” I think that the comma after “provided” is wrong, and separates two parts of a single clause. He insists that “with the use of a ‘proviso,’ the second comma is appropriate and correct punctuation.” There are many “provided that” phrases in the document in question, and he wants each of them to be “provided, that.” Am I (a) wrong to think that this comma is incorrect in English? (b) Wrong to think that legal documents are written in English? (c) Not wrong?

A. You are correct about the punctuation. A second comma would only introduce ambiguity into an otherwise clear sentence, because in this case when “provided” is isolated by commas, it’s not clear whether it modifies “documents” or the following clause. It wouldn’t be the first time a convention of legal writing served to obscure meaning. In fact, some legal writers disdain the use of provisos altogether. Take a look at Joseph Kimble’s article for the Michigan Bar Journal , “Down with Provided That” ( http://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article721.pdf).