In a trend that many laud as logical and just as many mourn as the dearth of legal language, judges and attorneys across the U.S. are shying away from what has come to be known as “legalese” in their writings. This change in attitudes follows that of many other industries, as simple, easy-to-read text has risen in popularity as more and more of it is intended to be shared online. Let’s take a look at what this means and then we’ll leave it up to you to decide if you’re ready to roll on with the changing times or retain a more classic writing style.
What Defines Legalese?
There are a few trademark characteristics of legalese. These include, but are not limited to:
- Over- or improper capitalization of words, i.e. Judge, Court, Debtor
- Superfluous words or phrases, i.e. herein, heretofore, “now, therefore, it may be and is hereby ordered that”
- Lack or improper use of articles, i.e. “Debtor has heretofore agreed to; by which Trustee is to undersign”
- Over or improper use of parentheses and quotation marks, e.g. “Louise Lawyer (“Attorney”)”
The Turning Point
Though many in the legal industry have been grumbling about the unnecessarily difficult writing conventions for quite some time, the move toward simplified writing made a big splash in 2009. Minnesota bankruptcy court judge Robert Kressel released modernized guidelines for attorneys submitting orders to his court. His new guide pointed out many of the points listed above, as well as others. Because many people agreed with his suggestions, his guide made headlines and continues to be shared widely among attorneys entering the field.
Why the Change?
Kressel made the point that writing in a bloated and antiquated style serves only one purpose: to sound more important and intricate than is necessary. In reference to superfluous words, he stated “They serve no purpose other than to make the document sound more legal, which is exactly the opposite of the goal that I am trying to accomplish.”
Many worry that overuse of legalese confuses the meaning of such documents and leaves room for interpretation where there should be none. By writing in a simplified style, we are given an opportunity to reduce confusion and increase efficiency. Kressel asks attorneys in his court to please write the way they speak.