Legal writing doesn’t need legalese
What’s the number one thing a reader of a legal document is looking for? We’d like to suggest that it’s clarity! Readers of any writing — including legal documents — are looking for a document they can read once, understand, and act on.
Read the full version of a definition of plain language by the International Plain Language Federation
The award for Best Plain Language Legal Document celebrates legal writing that gets its point across without that legal flavouring that we’ve seen so often. How often have you encountered words like these in a legal document — furthermore, notwithstanding, prior to, accordingly? And what about commence, expedite, or terminate?
Let’s see some legal documents that push the boundaries of ‘plain’
The winners of the Best Plain English Legal Document in 2018, Draper Cormack, pride themselves on communicating clearly and directly with their clients. And the judges agreed that they were doing a great job of clear communication with their terms and conditions. The judges said:
This document is written in a way that gives the intended audience a strong chance of understanding it at the first reading, and in the way the drafter wants them to. It’s clear, direct writing, using as few words as needed, and avoids being ambiguous, lengthy or technical writing and complex sentences.
Overall, it is a good example of what you can do with a legal document.
The other finalists, Infinite Possibilities and Hatch, also made clarity a key feature of their communication with their customers.
Check out a legal document with a difference in the client relationship agreement from Infinite Possibilities
And take a look at Hatch’s terms too. The judges said:
Overall this document shows what plain English can achieve in the law. The target audience is written to in a language it can understand and act upon with confidence. The flow of ideas is logical and the design is clear and concise. [The document’s audience] would easily and quickly grasp its implications.
What the judges are looking for
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.
Watch videos from our judges of the legal category in our gallery:
- A lawyer’s tale — from the shadows of legalese to the light of plain language
- Judge Andrew Pegler asks, Are you friend or are you foe?
More about the Best Plain Language Legal Document category
Posted In: 2021 Plain English Awards, Communications, Industry awards, Legal writing, Plain English Awards
Tags: 2021 Plain English Awards, Best Legal Document, clear communication, clear thinking, clear writing, improved writing, Legal writing, legalese, writing for the public