Can you define the following phrases correctly?
If not, we guarantee it’s not you. You’ve just been hit with a dose of legalese, aka legal jargon used in contracts that is known for being ridiculously indecipherable. But there’s good news. Plain language contracts are becoming more acceptable — even popular.
Legalese is the specialized language of the legal profession, according to Merriam-Webster. It’s a type of business jargon with a bad rep for being confusing, dense, overly complicated, and wordy to the max. Lawyers may understand it, but everyone else? Forget it.
Check out this handout from Columbia Law School about writing in plain English. Even some lawyers themselves don’t like legalese!
The alternative to using legalese in legal documents? Using plain language.
Plain language contracts, also called plain English contracts, are what they sound like. (How appropriate!) They’re contracts written in a language that is simple, clear, and precise. Plain language better communicates the message in a legal document to a broader audience. You don’t need a law degree or mystery-solving skills to understand plain language contracts.
And here’s the big question. If lawyers don’t even like using legalese and barely anyone can understand it, why is it still used for legal documents?
There are a few possible reasons. For one thing, it saves time. Lawyers and non-lawyers can probably find templates written in legalese more easily than ones written in plain language.
Plus, people are used to legalese. Everyone accepts it, from the people who agree that they’re legally enforceable to those who sign these contracts and just hope for the best.
If you’re feeling cynical, you might even think that legalese is used to protect the legal profession and keep lawyers in demand.
The good news is, you don’thaveto use legalese for your business contracts! You can use all the plain language contracts you want.
Plain language contracts are more easily understood by everyone: you, your clients, your colleagues, you name it. You don’t need a lawyer to write your contract or translate one before you sign it.
That means plain language contracts save you time and money. No more hours wasted trying to figure out what your client's contract means or explaining whatyourcontract means. Plus, no lawyer fees. That’s a big win.
Finally, by using plain language contracts, you show your clients that you’re trustworthy. You’re not hiding behind scary legalese. There’s a lower risk of misunderstandings, disagreements, and possible lawsuits.
Let’s be clear here. Plain language contracts aren’t “dumbing down” or “oversimplifying” legal documents for less intelligent folks. Plain language contracts are meant to be clear, honest, and simple so that your message is more accessible.
Here are some tips for writing plain language contracts:
The active voice identifies the subject, verb, and object of a sentence more clearly. When it comes to law, it helps establish who or what is responsible for something that happens.
Passive voice:“The doorwas opened by the man.”
Active voice:“The manopened the door.”
Remember “hereinbefore mentioned” from the beginning of this blog? Another way to say that is “previously stated.” When you can, use simple words that are more commonly known to your audience.
Check that your language is free of clutter. Remove phrases that aren’t needed. Restructure phrases that use four to five words to say what can be said in one or two words.
Cluttered legalese:“With reference to thefull and complete document…”
Plain language:“About the complete document…”
Can you tell that we’re Team Plain Language at The Contract Shop®? The benefits are worth it! They save you time, money, and legal headaches. They encourage your clients to trust you more easily. They’re a good business decision.
If you’ve never written a contract before, or don’t have the time to make the switch from legalese to plain language, we get it. That’s what we’re here for!
At The Contract Shop®, we have tons of legalese-free templates prepared and peer-reviewed by attorneys for every type of biz. Coaches, influencers, photographers, independent contractors — we’ve got you covered.
Find the perfect contract template for your business today!
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