Legalese? No thanks!

I’m always pleased to see articles by others about using Plain Language in lieu of legalese. And yesterday, techno.la posted one.

So then I thought I’d check and see how often the term “Legalese” appears in news searches on Google.

The answer is 147 times.

Then for goofs, I checked how often the term appears in blog searches on Google.

The answer is 72,710 times.

And what is the reason for this?

Blogs allow people to express their feelings much more easily, especially displeasure. Now I did not read the seventy-two thousand seven hundred ten different blogs (I do work y’know) but I glanced at their topics and noted that they were generally berating the use of legalese.

Why? BECAUSE LEGALESE IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND.

Sure, it may mean a little job security in the short-term, but in the long-term, we’ll have poorly drafted documents that may amount to gibberish.

Some of the blogs also noted that plain, concise language is actually harder to write. Easier to read, but harder to write.

Take this example from here:

When the man in the street says: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the lawyer writes,”Insofar as
manifestations of functional deficiencies are agreed by any and all concerned parties to be imperceivable,
and are so stipulated, it is incumbent upon said heretofore mentioned parties to exercise the deferment
of otherwise pertinent maintenance procedures.”

Just a Thursday thought!

-RFW

More SRLs: Are Lawyers too Costly or Simply Sign of Hard Times?

That’s the question coming out of Connecticut this week, see Connecticut Law Tribune article here. Whatever the answer, the numbers of Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs is on the rise. The trend isn’t limited to Connecticut either. Recent conversations with family court judges, clerks of court and masters-in-equity have indicated that South Carolina is also part of the trend.

The challenges faced by other court systems also mirror what is happening in South Carolina. SRLs are not familiar with procedures to meet minimal requirements such as notifying the other party or service of process. Even if they meet procedural requirements they may not understand some of the documents themselves. They may not even complete all the necessary forms.

Additionally, attorneys have a reputation for using their own language, also known as legalese. The phrases in legal documents often are in Latin, not English. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is working with the courts to ensure that court documents are written in Plain English whenever possible.

Clerks of Court in South Carolina have also noted the rise in SRLs. Members of the public often ask for forms, then ask for help completing them. Or they may ask for advice from the clerk of whether to bring the action. Clerks are wary of responding – not because they don’t want to help, but because they don’t want to overstep into the practice of law – the unauthorized practice of law. In South Carolina, there are established laws indicating that only attorneys licensed in South Carolina may practice law in South Carolina. Legal advice is considered the practice of law. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is also working to address this question by developing signage clearly indicating what clerks can and cannot do. And the Commission is working with a clerk of court work group to educate clerks and the general public about the fine line between advice and information.

Judges note that they too have ethical dilemmas. When SRLs appear in their courtrooms and miss relevant pieces of their cases, the judges want to help but they too have boundaries. They may not help one side to the detriment of another.

SRLs have arrived and South Carolina is working to address the issue of increased numbers of SRLs in the courts.

But it may take a little while.

Thanks for your patience.

-RFW

The Move toward Plain English

As you may recall, there have been posts and discussions at the regional public hearings about “legalese” and its exclusivity. While the South Carolina courts are in the process of moving toward Plain English, it’s important to recognize that this is an issue facing many other courts as well.

Well, there is help out there for English speakers and writers – in the form of blogs, articles and other resources – as I was recently reminded by Vickie Britton.

Thanks for bringing this back to our attention. This is an important issue for many South Carolinians.

-RFW

For your reading pleasure, check out:

Plain Language: Moving Away from Legalese

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission was first introduced to the concept of Plain Language at the regional public hearings last spring.  Last week, Court Solutions’ attendees learned more about the Plain Language movement and heard about initiatives around the country.

Plain Language uses words and images that most people can understand. It enables people with low literacy abilities, people with limited English proficiency and/or people with cognitive disabilities to more easily understand the concepts. People with visual impairments benefit from plain language because it is easier for their automated “screen readers.”

There are many online resources about how to draft plain language documents. Here are just a few:

Stay tuned for more information about Plain Language updates from Stephanie A. Nye.

-RFW