War On Legalese


0516-lawyers (Photo credit: Rae Z)

It’s often interesting to hear people outside the legal profession complain about how legal personnel make documents that are meant to be easily accessible difficult to understand. Many people will testify to the fact some unscrupulous lawyers have a tenancy to use jargon as a way of intimidating and shielding themselves. The battle to remove tongue twisting latin words from legal language, has clearly not been won despite the Woolf reforms which were aimed at making the law more accessible and easy to understand.

The common argument by proponents for the preservation of Latin in legal language, is that lawyers use words as tools in their speech and on paper, in the same way that other professions and trades use scalpels, drills, combs, treads, hammers and adding machines. The culture within the legal sector that expects legal personnel to speak in vague and non-committal terms is a bureaucratic trap which prevents things getting done.

One wonders if there is any sense in using unnecessary terms of art which serve no purpose. Perhaps the aim is to confer some sort of mystique on those who insist on the use of jargon. Some practitioners in the legal sector who have a genuine desire to help people are pushing back and are now insisting on using plain English language that makes sense to the lay person.

Which ever way you look at it, cramming legal documents with gobbledygook takes “the right to understand” away from lay people.


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