Friday, November 22, 2013

You think that legal writing requires legalese? (on writing well)

"Legalese" is a term given to phrases like "indemnify and hold harmless:" not everyone knows what it means, but since it sounds legal, lawyers can get away with using it, even though they shouldn't. Or even though they're sometimes not sure themselves what the "terms of art" mean.

One of my favorite reads is the monthly legal writing article in the Michigan Bar Journal. It's often written by Joseph Kimble, who is responsible for the Legal Writing classes I took in law school. His approach to legal writing is that it's something that shouldn't require a law school degree to interpret.This approach is also called Plain Language, or Plain English. It's not been wholeheartedly embraced by the legal profession, which is, not surprisingly, slow to change.

Anyway, this month's Bar Journal has another great column by Professor Kimble, titled "You Think the Law Requires Legalese?" From the article:

"lawyers tend to greatly exaggerate the extent to which the law requires specific, unalterable wording in legal and official documents. . . .
research show[s] that the terms are unnecessary, troublesome, best used together with plainer terms, or replaceable with a plain equivalent.  For example: give, not give, devise, and bequeath; interest, not right, title, and interest; together and individually, not jointly and severally.
  . . . Terms of art are more rare and more replaceable than lawyers think. . . . The law is no serious obstacle to writing clearly and plainly. 
 Full article here.

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