Feb / 13

Legal Ease not Legalese. Plain English: What is it and why do we need when it comes to the law?

Sharon Givoni Consulting Consumer Law

Plain English: What is it and why do we need when it comes to the law?

By far one of my favourite quotes is one by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher who said something on the lines of:

“I’m sorry for writing such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

I love this because it highlights the importance of being concise and succinct and the challenge of conveying complex ideas or arguments in a succinct manner. Nowhere, other than the law, is this challenge more apparent.

Writing in plain English and avoiding legal jargon can help make the law much more accessible and this is what we strive to do at my law firm, hence our tagline “Legal ease not legalese” (and yes, we have registered that as a trade mark!).

Please explain

It is common for people to complain that lawyers use too many words, especially in legal letters and contracts.

The use of complex language and legal jargon can make it difficult for non-lawyers to understand the meaning of legal documents and contracts.

This can lead to confusion, misunderstandings, and the worst of all: Disputes.

Take, as an example, the following clause as an example which is not that unusual in a distribution agreement:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, if, during the term of this Agreement and any renewal thereof, the Company shall have failed to perform any covenant or agreement to be performed by it under this Agreement or under any other agreement between the Company and Distributor, and such failure shall continue for a period of 30 days after written notice from Distributor specifying such failure, then Distributor may, at its option, either terminate this Agreement or declare the same to be in default, whereupon Distributor may, in addition to any and all other rights and remedies existing in its favour, enforce any and all rights and remedies provided in this Agreement or in any other agreement between the Company and Distributor.”

No doubt you would agree that the above clause is a lengthy and complicated combination of words, conditions and legal concepts, making it difficult for the average person to understand. I couldn’t even get a breath in when I read it – no full stops!

Lawyers more and more so are trying their best to avoid convoluted sentence structures and dense language. It can be a challenge to use more simple language to convey complex ideas but notwithstanding, the use of “plain English” movement in the law has gained great popularity and, it seems, will continue to go in that direction.

There are even some countries where legal requirements for contracts and other legal documents to be written in plain English (for example, the UK government has also made it a requirement for government communications to be written in plain language and this requirement is broadly replicated in some States in the United States).

The message is clear

Plain English when drafting legal precedents and contracts helps ensure that all parties involved understand the terms and obligations in the document. This is critical as these terms affect people legally and financially.

Plain English leads to better clarity, accessibility, time and cost savings and better decision-making. So if its not already clear, our message is: Legal Ease Not Legalise!®

Despite all that’s been said, if you do get a letter with legalese, you can familiarise yourself with these commonly used Latin phrases below:

  • Ad hoc: meaning “for this purpose,” this phrase refers to something that is created or done for a specific purpose or situation.
  • Amicus curiae: meaning “friend of the court,” this term refers to a person or organisation that is not a party to a lawsuit but provides information or support to the court.
  • Voir Dire: A preliminary examination of a witness or juror to determine their fitness to serve in a trial.
  • Habeas Corpus: A writ that requires a person who is being detained to be brought before a court or judge, typically to ensure that the detention is lawful.
  • Et Alia: An abbreviation of the Latin phrase “et alia,” which means “and others.”
  • Pro Bono: A Latin term meaning “for the good,” often used to describe legal work performed by lawyers without charge, as a public service.
  • In Re: An abbreviation of the Latin phrase “in re,” which means “in the matter of”, often used in legal documents to indicate that a case is being heard in the context of a particular matter or subject.
  • Ex Parte: A legal term meaning “on behalf of one party,” often used to describe legal proceedings in which only one side is represented or heard.
  • Inter alia: A legal term for “among other things”, often used in legal writing to indicate that a list of items is not exhaustive.
  • Per Stirpes: A Latin term meaning “by the roots,” often used in the context of wills and estates to describe the distribution of property to descendants.
  • Quid Pro Quo: A Latin term meaning “something for something,” often used to describe a situation in which something is exchanged for something else of equal value.
  • Res ipsa loquitur: meaning “the thing speaks for itself,” a legal doctrine holds that an injury was caused by the defendant’s negligence, without the need for further evidence.
  • Fiat justitia ruat caelum: meaning “let justice be done though the heavens fall,” this phrase expresses the idea that justice should be carried out, even if the consequences are disastrous.
  • Ejusdem generis: meaning “of the same kind,” such that where specific items are listed, any general words that follow are to be limited to things of the same kind.

If you need a legal document in plain English please contact us.

Article by Sharon Givoni, Principal Solicitor
Sharon Givoni Consulting

Please note the above article is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.
This article was written by Sharon Givoni, Principal Solicitor at the law firm Sharon Givoni Consulting (https://www.sharongivoni.com.au/). We do a lot of work in the area of interior design and understand the industry.

Please email us info@iplegal.com.au if you need legal advice about your brand or another legal matter in this area generally.