My 10 tips to improve your legal writing recommend you spend time ruthlessly crossing through, deleting or rewording your text.
Gustave Flaubert recommended editing “Whenever you can shorten a sentence, do. And one always can. The best sentence? The shortest.”
You need to edit your text to create a document which suits the needs of your reader and your purpose. Legal documents are often used to inform, persuade, recommend or convince. They cannot be effective unless they are edited to the bare minimum required to get your client’s point across.
Not everyone is on board with the idea of editing ruthlessly (Rudolph Flesch, the Art of Readable Writing):
...there is one profession that thinks it can’t live without long sentences: the lawyers. They maintain that all possible qualifications of an idea have to be put in a single sentence or legal documents would be no good
Although that book is nearly 70 years old, its still not far from the truth. This ‘habit’ harks back to the good old days when courts interpreted documents literally, picking apart the individual meaning of words to interpret the purpose of every clause or sentence. Justice Coulson recently recommended that the publishers of standard form construction contracts start from scratch.
A florid verbose writing style is no longer required in life, business, or even in legal documents. Nowadays, the courts are prepared to apply use business common sense when they can’t work out its meaning from the words in the contract.
How long will it take contract writers to catch on and learn to edit properly?