Monday, July 18, 2005

Student can write plainly

I gave my Basic Drafting students a long and legalistic-sounding website disclaimer to rewrite. Their assignment was to rewrite the text into what I call consumer drafting--legal text intended for a nonlegal audience.

When pushed, and I have pushed them, students can completely abandon the overformal, legalistic prose that is so common in legal drafting. They cut all the archaisms, the legal jargon, and the unnecessarily fancy words. They also wipe out the passive-voice constructions, the nominalizations, and the stuffy tone. Honestly, some of these original texts sound as if a robo-lawyer drafted them. The rewrites from my students sound like a human being drafted them.

This is what I strive for in legal writing and legal drafting: to sound like a human being.

Lawyers should sound like other professional writers. We should strive to communicate, not to impress or intimidate or baffle. We should not talk down to people--especially those who aren't' lawyers.

Let's write in standard English, as members of the Legal Writing Institute resolved in 1992:

"The language used by lawyers should agree with the common speech, unless there are reasons for a difference."

And the reasons for a difference are few. Almost none.

Read the entire resolution here:

Resolution on Plain Language by the 1992 Conference of the Legal Writing Institute

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