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Use Plain Language in Legal Documents

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    Staff Writer


It's time we embrace plain language in our legal documents.

The Language of Confusion

It's no secret that legal documents are a maze of jargon, outdated phrases, and complex structures. One can easily get lost in the labyrinth of "hereinafters," "wherefores," and "notwithstandings."

Much legalese has its roots in old English law. Ancient words and phrases that were frequently used in legal contexts, often borrowed or even corrupted from Latin and French, survived the evolution of everyday English and turned into legal jargon. Learning this language became a kind of rite of passage for aspiring lawyers, creating a barrier that only those 'in the know' can cross.

Accessibility and Justice

Here's the thing: Law, at its core, is for the people. And the people aren't specialist technicians. Legal language, as it stands now, is a barrier to understanding, participation, and ultimately, to justice. It turns the law into a club where only the elite know the secret handshake.

Plain language makes the law more accessible to the people it serves. Plain language is clear, concise, and focused on the reader. It removes the unnecessary jargon and focuses on the message. And isn’t that what communication is about?

Goodbye Legalese, Hello Clarity

This is not an argument for dumbing down all legal documents. Legal concepts can be complex and we need a language that can handle this complexity. But this doesn't mean we can't strive for clarity.

Let's take contracts for instance. These are documents that almost everyone encounters in their daily life, often without the benefit of counsel. How often do consumers sign on the dotted line without fully understanding the document and what they've agreed to? Contracts are often written in dense, convoluted language and delivered 'take it or leave it' by large corporations to individual consumers. Plain language could make these documents understandable, without sacrificing accuracy or legal weight.

The Benefits of Plain Language

Adopting plain language in legal documents benefits everyone. For clients, it demystifies the law, allowing them to make informed decisions. For lawyers, it can reduce misunderstandings and disputes, saving time and money. And for the courts, it can streamline proceedings, leading to swifter justice.

The Bottom Line

The law is too important to be the exclusive domain of initiates. The goal of our legal system be clarity not confusion. It should include, not exclude. And embracing plain language is a step towards this ideal.

For some arguments in defense of legalese, see In Defense of Legalese: The Indispensable Role of Technical Legal Language