Telling numbers

I’m currently reading a book on modern legal drafting (read: ‘plain english for dummies, I mean, lawyers’). It is very good so far, but I think this is a telling stat about lawyers: 127 pages are devoted to why clear, modern english is a good idea. That is 22 pages more than are devoted to how to write clear, modern english.

Modern Legal Drafting, by Peter Butt and Richard Castle

This imbalance isn’t as insane as it sounds at first; there are some not-crazy reasons to re-use old language in legal documents, and explaining why they aren’t actually correct is a useful service. Still… given that some of the complaints about legalese cited by the book are over 200 years old, you would think the profession might at least by now realize that much legalese is a bad idea, even if we haven’t yet learned how to get rid of it…

(Favorite sentence from the book: “My client has discussed your proposal to fill the ditch with his partners.“)

Posted in law

9 thoughts on “Telling numbers”

  1. Every country and language seems to have their own variant of legalese.

    In addition to the legalese in contracts and licenses and privacy statements and such, it also infests law books. As a result, a normal human is often unable to correctly interpret a law.

    Combined with the size of the legal corpus, it’s almost impossible for normal people to know the law so they can follow it.

    That’s not a recipe for a just society.

  2. Lars: I agree, and the authors of the book would agree too. That is one of the critical arguments for reformers, but change in a crufty code base (both mental and written) takes a long time.

    Wes: I think it is like the panda who eats, shoots, and leaves ;)

  3. Man, that book tries too hard to get fancy with the words. Instead, it just comes off stodgy and artless. When wannabe Strunk & White start discussing the “language abstruse,” they lose me entirely.

  4. […] a bonus, and related to my recent post about plain english in the law, Wondermark is apparently working with the Center for Plain Language on a contest to reward plain […]

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