Christopher Trudeau (and Christine Cawthorne) have repeated their 2010 study of preferences in legal documents and communication to find out how lawyers can better serve their clients and the wider community.
The conclusions? Their 2017 report says:
- clear legal communication is vitally important
- legal information is very widespread (with 80% coming across it in the last 12 months and 32% of workers coming across it daily)
- legal information takes a long time to process (41% of users spent over 30 minutes reading it)
- legal information isn’t consumed in its entirety (78% stopped reading before the end, although most then sought out summaries elsewhere)
- time is being wasted an productivity lost because of hard-to-read legal information
- an overwhelming majority (97%) believe it is either important or very important to understand legal information
- using Latin words or complicated terms impresses a mere 2% of readers and yet it annoys and bothers 65%
- over 80% of readers prefer active sentences (where the subject is clear)
- nearly 90% of readers prefer ‘must’ to ‘shall’
- nearly 90% of readers prefer sentences without jargon or idioms
- over 80% of readers prefer simple sentences (not legalistic ones)
- nearly 80% of readers prefer a longer but simpler version if that includes explanations of unusual terms and jargon
- as education increases, so does the reader’s preference for plain language (they know what’s clear and understandable)
As the report summarises “the vast majority [85.6%] of people prefer clear writing to traditional, hard-to-read writing when given the choice.”
What should you do?
Even though my brand advocates short contracts, it’s not because I believe in absolute length as the issue. It is my challenge to business to use contracts that cut to the core of what the parties have agreed. My books show it is possible to write contracts in just 500 words – it’s up to you whether you embellish that word count to make sure everything necessary is correctly recorded and explained.
As the report states “using plain language does not always mean shortening something. It means explaining technical concepts to a reader in ways that help them understand—even if that means adding more words.”
So if you need to add more words to make your contract easier to understand then do so, but don’t use this as an excuse for a long complex contract!