In the process of creating a series of construction contracts in just 500 words, I learnt a huge amount about using simple, clear and concise language –or ‘plain language’.
Everyone prefers plain language – your clients expect and want it from their advisers, their business partners, their regulatory authorities and also from their lawyers.
In South Africa and some US states, legislation has been introduced to make plain language a requirement, at least when dealing with consumers. Professor Joe Kimble has a book including 50 case studies showing the massive benefits of plain language (Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please). There are even companies bragging about how plain their T&C really are.
But the skills to write plainly are common, and the tools and techniques need to be learnt and practiced (and bad habits erased). This is never easy when you are surrounded by a wealth of bad practice and bad language.
If you think that your writing is pretty good – plain, simple and user-friendly – take a look at some of these blogs which might make you think again:
- The Lawyerist blog including the Worst Legal Writing
- The Court of Appeal’s view on legal writing at Making sense of legalese. Not.
- Ken Adams blog and specifically Making Changes to the Other Side’s Legalese-Filled Draft.
Make A Decision
The first stage to really improve your legal writing is to become a plain language organisation. Your bosses must consciously decide that plainer language will benefit your clients.
Once that decision is made, then it depends on how it is put into practice. Some ideas include:
- developing internal guides and creating know-how on plain writing
- starting a debate on writing skills within your business
- running workshops demonstrating new skills, behaviours and know-how tools
- adopting a top-down cultural shift towards plain language
- training staff using software tools (eg MS Word’s readability data or Editor’s Software Style Writer) to nudge you to improve your drafting and writing skills
- creating internal projects to rewrite existing documents in plain language.
Plain language will create more satisfied clients, stimulate innovation and give you more confidence in your communication abilities.
Improving Your Skills
There are thousands of global experts on plain language across a wide range of organisations. Bryan Garner (a leading US authority on plain legal writing) recommends that you need
“the stamina and self-confidence to seek and appreciate others’ editing or rewriting of your own work. Don’t fall into the trap of discounting it as just ego-destroying make-work by sadists bent on crushing you. Everyone—everyone—needs editing.”
If you specifically want to prepare contracts and legal documents, then you can improve your skills through:
- Attending Clarity meetings – an organisation for promoting plain legal language
- Following plain language experts on social media or joining relevant groups on LinkedIn
- Scouring relevant blogs such as Top 10 legal writing blogs (mostly US), LawProse Bryan A Garner’s website or Conscious Contracts a US website proposing that contracts can enable businesses to be a force for positive change
- Reading documents on slideshare such as my guide to How to Write Your 500-Word Contract™ and my Tips on Simple, Clear writing.
If you’d like me to help your staff write using plain language then contact me and I will share my simple process – called WRITE – to help you create better documents for your business.