Thursday, September 28, 2006

Drafting Legal Documents nonlawyers Can Read and Understand (DLD)

Too many legal texts intended for the general public are dense, dry, and unnecessarily complex. They contain typical legal drafting: legal jargon, legal terms of art, long sentences, and complicated syntax. To the extent they are unreadable or difficult to understand, the drafters--and their clients--are vulnerable to assertions that the text should not apply because the intended audience could not understand it. What's more, these texts often contain mistakes of English or of substantive law, both of which are harder to spot and fix if the text is typical legal drafting. And ultimately, the texts fail of their essential purpose: to communicate binding legal content to the nonlegal audience.

Despite the many and obvious failings of so much text intended for nonlawyers, too many lawyers still produce text that only other lawyers can fully understand. Yet more and more legal documents must be read and understood by the general public:

Employee manuals and handbooks
Basic contracts
Credit-card agreements
Software licenses and user agreements
Website disclaimers
Insurance policies
Public notices
Consumer regulations

And more. All these have as their primary, intended audience, the general public--nonlawyers. So why do so many lawyers fail to draft in ways nonlawyers can read and understand?

Maybe they haven't been taught. I surely wasn't taught the skill in law school--almost no lawyers were. And even today I teach it to only a small percentage of law students, those who take my advanced courses.

So this book aims to teach you how to prepare legal documents nonlawyers can read and understand. It will focus on 10 principles for clear drafting, from knowing the audience and adopting a "consumer" style, to words, sentences, paragraphs, design, and readability. The book will contain lots of practical advice for consumer drafting and numerous before-and-after examples.

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