O’ the Shame of Legalese!

   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.

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