The Move Toward Using Plain Legal Language

The History of Plain Language

In response to these criticisms, a move toward using “plain language” began in the 1970s. Plain language (also referred to as plain English) is not about oversimplifying communications or writing in a lackluster style. The goal of plain language is to express precisely a communication with clarity and conciseness so that it is easily read and understood by its intended audience. Therefore, plain language drafters avoid verbosity, pretentious language, and tortuous sentence structures.

Over the years the plain language movement has gained support among legal practitioners, particularly those in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States. In 1983, some legal professionals formed a group devoted to promoting the use of plain legal language; since then, Clarity International has developed into a worldwide organization that holds biennial conferences and publishes a biannual journal devoted to research in plain legal language. Today, plain language advocates include government officials, judges, lawyers, legal consultants, and legal educators.

Despite Support for Plain Legal Language, Legalese Persists

Despite the ever-increasing support for using plain legal language, the traditional style of legal writing, rife with legalese and bloated sentences, persists in legislation, regulations, litigation drafting, and contracts. Reasons for this persistence vary. Some legal writers cling to the myth that conciseness and clarity often must be sacrificed in order to express the communication as accurately as possible. But a capable legal writer should be able to draft clearly and concisely without sacrificing precision. Still, other writers prefer the traditional style over plain language because they believe it communicates a lawyerly tone that seems more impressive, authoritative, or persuasive. Yet, a communication’s power is diminished or lost if the reader struggles with reading and understanding the message. Furthermore, a recent study published

Read the rest