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Making legalese clear

Converting legalese into Plain English which is easier to understand, while keeping the legal message, is possible and doesn’t have to be that hard, either.

With the overall aim being to make the content shorter and to use simpler words, you can greatly improve a piece of legalese writing into something more readable.

Try swapping the phrases and words next time you are writing or editing any legal-based statements to see what a difference they make.

in respect of                                 about

due to                                             because

wherefore                                      why (or what)

herein                                             in (or within)

in the event                                   if

defaults in the payment             doesn’t pay

vendor                                             buyer or customer

three (3)                                         three

at this time                                     now

for the purpose of                         for (or to)

in order to                                      to

in point of fact                              in fact {or nothing is probably the best option!}

is required to                                 must

inasmuch as                                  because (or since)

making a determination             determining (or better, try ‘deciding’)

subsequent to the use of              after using

whether or not                               whether

with reference to                            regarding (or ‘about’ for real simplicity)

commence                                        start (or begin)

utilise                                                use

in light of the fact that                 because ( or the really short option ‘as’)

And remember that ‘include’ means ‘here is part of the full list’ so there is no reason to write ‘including but not limited to …’

Are there particular words or phrases in legalese (or other hard to read dialects) that stand out for you? What words would you use in stead, or do you need some suggestions of alternatives?

Legalese or clear English?

Legalese* is used a lot and is not what I call clear content or simple communication.

Legalese is usually both longer and more complicated than is necessary to communicate a message. Most people don’t read it in full because it is looks too boring and hard. And it isn’t truly necessary most of the time.

If you have terms or other important information to communicate with clients, by all means get a lawyer to review it for you to ensure you are saying the right things. However, make sure the information is presented clearly.

To help make it clear:

  • find a legal advisor who is happy to work with you for commercially sound content – at a minimum, get them to approve what is written meets the requirements (and no more) even if they would prefer to include a lot more
  • write a short and simple message and link off to a comprehensive list of legal terms elsewhere. The message alerts people that terms exist but keeps your main message clear – and most people really don’t need to know all those terms. I have used this strategy on product disclosure statements – we state the basic rules that apply to most people and list the finer terms elsewhere for unusual circumstances. The result is that people actually read those documents rather than letting them collect dust as they appear too hard.
  • use good formatting to make the content visually appealing – lots of small print, long sentences and numbered items in paragraph style is very off-putting

What do you think – do you read content that is obviously legalese? Do you find some of that small print information worth reading, if only presented in a clear way?

I can think of a few instances where a document has not answered a question so I have to skim through a lot of tiny terms to find the information. A shorter legal statement with important details or a well set out page of terms would be much easier to achieve the same goal.

* Legalese is the usually complex way lawyers write information to ensure all angles are covered and liabilities avoided.