Legal writing doesn’t need to be legalese. The judges for the Best Plain Language Legal Document are looking for excellent examples of legal writing that push the boundaries of what we might think legal writing typically looks like.
No longer stuffy or wordy, filled with passive voice or obfuscation, today’s legal writing is clear and concise yet still legally rigorous.
The judges of last year’s winning document said:
The document feels friendly and manageable. It skilfully employs all the right plain English and clear design techniques. Its language and layout make understanding it as easy as it can be without losing its legal rigour.
And they commented on the design of the document too:
Plenty of white space with tables, diagrams and worked examples used to help convey information. Good consistency in heading size and use of colour.
The document has a good tone. It’s friendly but professional — and that’s not always an easy balance to strike.
Clarify the complex
Plain legal documents do a great job of clarifying the complex so that you don’t need a law degree to understand the content.
The judges were also impressed by one of last year’s finalists:
The language used is mainly plain and great care has gone into making sure complex rules and processes are explained as clearly as possible.
Of another finalist they said:
This report is very easy to navigate, particularly considering the complexity of the information presented. It tackles a complex (and potentially eye-glazing) subject very well. It’s a visually appealing document with great use of colour and graphics. The structure works well with a logical flow and the essential, need-to-know information is clearly presented. An excellent job all round.
Enter your plain legal document
The judges are looking for the best example of a legal document written in plain language. You can enter a document used in legal contexts or for legal purposes. Examples include contracts, agreements, terms and conditions, notices, deeds, judgments, legal opinions, and so on. The document may cover a legally enforceable Act, process, obligation, or right.
Here are the judging criteria. And remember the judges will also be keen to know if you’ve evaluated your document in any way, such as carrying out document user-testing.
The purpose of the document is clear at the start, and the content supports the purpose of the document.
The structure is clear and logical to the reader.
Headings and main messages
The headings are informative and clearly signpost the main messages.
The paragraphs are mostly short and focused on one topic.
The sentences are mostly short and straightforward.
The words are precise and familiar. Technical terms are explained.
Layout and presentation
The layout helps the reader absorb the messages quickly and easily.