Much of our American legal system comes from the English common law, where early lawyers (called “scriveners”) were literally paid by the word. This history helps to explain why some legal writing tends to be so verbose.
Today’s attorneys are often paid by the hour. It would be prohibitively expensive for clients to have their lawyers write lengthy agreements from scratch, and this is another reason why legal documents tend to be very wordy. Instead of coming up with a contract out of thin air, attorneys usually start with a template or sample. It may be something they have worked on before, received from another attorney, or obtained from a reputable source, like their state bar association. While this practice is efficient, it tends to perpetuate some of the archaic language that has been passed down by lawyers from one generation to the next.
These days, a growing trend has emerged opposing the old status quo. One significant reason for this is that courts generally analyze contracts using plain English, i.e. the dictionary definition of every single word. Another reason is that savvy lawyers strive to write contracts that can be easily understood by everyone who reads them, which can be impossible if the agreement is filled with complicated, overly formal legalese. In other words, judges and non-lawyers may prefer a more concise, clear, and direct style. The parties to the contract absolutely must be able to understand and carry out its terms. After all, this is the purpose of having a contract.
If you are an attorney, how can you adopt this approach? The primary consideration should be giving the parties to your contract the precise information they need in a way that is easy to understand and implement, leading to fewer disputes down the road. Try to avoid long sentences that attempt to cover too much ground at once. Use as few words as possible, leaving less room for debate and confusion. Make sure every word has a clear meaning and purpose and is truly essential to the agreement, keeping in mind that a judge may be analyzing your language choices down the road.
If you are a business owner, you can easily improve your operations by using plain English contracts. Your employees, clients, and vendors should appreciate being presented with agreements that are as brief as possible and simple to understand. Should you inevitably receive a complicated document, though, it is important to have a qualified business attorney review it before signing. Your lawyer can act as a translator and guide, helping you to understand the agreement’s terms and requesting any necessary changes on your behalf.
Are you interested in learning about my experience as a corporate law attorney assisting business leaders and entrepreneurs in our community? Please email me at email@example.com or call me at 407-647-7887