Monday, May 21, 2012

Ease Up on the Legalese

The recent Mother’s Day holiday reminded me of the role that some very strong women have played in my life.  Without them, I most certainly would never have become the woman I am today.  For many of us in the younger generation of lawyers, our mothers held down full-time jobs while also serving as the house cleaners, checkbook balancers, carpool drivers, and homework helpers.  Our fathers, on the other hand, had the enviable task of simply working for a living.*
When I was in law school, I took a Poverty Law seminar in which I wrote a paper about payday lending and the various ways in which the states have attempted to regulate these usurious schemes.  I distinctly recall a conversation with my mother, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, in which she said,

“I’d love to read your paper if you think I’m smart enough to understand it.” 

Her comment underscores one of the very problems with the legal system today—its inaccessibility, or perceived inaccessibility, to non-lawyers. 
With respect to legal writing, the recent trend has been a movement away from legalese to plain language.   I do not know whether this trend is attributable to Generation X and Generation Y, the overall societal movement away from formality in writing (for example, the use of texting and Twitter to communicate), the transition to email as the primary means of communication, or some other trend.  Regardless of the reason, I think the movement toward plain language is positive in that it de-mystifies the law, even if just a little, for non-lawyers and does away with legalese that is sometimes difficult for even lawyers to understand.

Some of my "favorite" legalese and the plain language alternatives

Legalese                                      Plain Language

Inasmuch as                                Since/Because

With respect to                            About

Null and void                               Null/Void

Sufficient number of                    Enough

During such time as                     While

Notwithstanding the fact that        Although/Despite

*For those of you who think women and men are anywhere close to "equal," Google the name "Kathleen M. Sullivan."  She is believed to be the first female name partner at an AmLaw 100 firm.  Guess when she was made a name partner?  I'll give you a hint--it wasn't during the 20th century.  Think MMX.

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