The judges are looking for easy-to-read legal documents | Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
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:
More about the Best Plain Language Legal Document category
Posted In: 2021 Plain English Awards, Communications, Industry awards, Legal writing, Plain English Awards
2021 Plain English Awards, Best Legal Document, clear communication, clear thinking, clear writing, improved writing, Legal writing, legalese, writing for the public
Taking a fresh approach to legal writing with the Best Plain English Legal Document
Legal documents are changing. Once densely written, peppered with Latin, and strictly formatted, today’s legal documents are much more reader-friendly.
We’re all readers of legal documents. And we all appreciate clearly written documents that state the necessary information without resorting to legalese. Preferably, we want to be able to read the document and understand it easily. This means we can discuss the content with our legal advisor or a colleague, without having to rely on someone else to explain it first.
A fresh approach to legal
When we’re signing a contract, entering an agreement, or deciding who we’ll leave our worldly goods to, legal documents in plain English make each party’s obligations clear.
The Best Plain English Legal Document award recognises this fresh approach to legal documents. The judges will be looking for examples of legal writing that consider the reader’s needs rather than the writer’s. These are the documents that clearly and succinctly explain, streamline, and structure legal content that could otherwise be confusing to a non-legally-trained person.
Here’s what the judges praised in last year’s winner and finalist entries.
About the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 (Parliamentary Counsel Office)
Parliamentary Counsel Office did a great job of combining multiple Acts that were a confusing hodgepodge of legislation into a single intelligible Act.
A clear understanding of the audience and consultation with these groups made the project stronger. The explanations in the legislation were particularly useful.
The revised Act is a great step forward in New Zealand for plain English legislation. And the intended audience has a much clearer picture of contractual law in New Zealand.
About the Property Sharing Agreement (Cavell Leitch)
Cavell Leitch has shown a commitment to improving the clarity of a consumer-focused contract. Significant steps have been taken to improve the language.
The judges are looking forward to seeing what this year’s entries will bring.
Enter your fresh legal document here
Posted In: 2018 Plain English Awards, Legal writing
Best Legal Document, clarity, Legal writing, legalese, recognition
Government agencies and commercial firms are again vying for honours in the annual Plain English Awards. Organisations are turning their back on corporate jargon, bureaucratic writing, and legalese.
Now in their 12th year, the Awards have an impressive track record. They encourage New Zealand organisations to favour clarity over complexity and celebrate those who choose to be clear.
The Awards are the premier benchmark for high standards and achievement in plain English. Success in the Awards shows we’re not only doing it [plain English], but doing it well and our expertise is being recognised.
Entries are open until August
Entries are open across nine categories. Awards are available for everything from superb sentence rewrites and document transformations, to recognition for people who campaign for clarity and their projects.
Entries are open now and will close on 31 August 2017.
Choose your category and enter the Awards
Posted In: Communications
benchmark, clarity, legalese, Plain English Awards