I try to write as much as I can in plain English. As a lawyer, that isn’t always easy. Lawyers use five words with five syllables where a single two syllable word would do for many reasons — They don’t know any better; i.e., that’s the way it has always been done. They’re afraid they’ll miss some nuance or meaning. They’re lazy or their client won’t pay for better; i.e., the form they used as a template was written that way or the client won’t pay for a decent revision. (I want a lease tomorrow and I want it cheap.) They think it makes them sound like a “real lawyer.” Other lawyers will criticize them and accuse them of being a poor lawyer if their writing isn’t impenetrable. Sometimes it is an artifact of the negotiation process with each side adding words to “spell it out a little better” or to “clarify a point.” The end result is a morass that is neither spelled out nor clear the day a dispute arises. Here are some particularly egregious examples from The Legalese Hall of Shame. I’m really terrified by the thought of a four page 1,000 word sentence. Is such a thing even possible?
I believe that impenetrable legalese creates more problems than it solves. It can actually breed litigation when documents are so lengthy and ambiguous that they can be read a dozen different ways. It may take a third party in the form of a judge or jury to decide what it means, and they may not agree with the litigants. More on this tomorrow.