Speak English Please – a Legaleze Free Zone
Contributor: Catherine Cioffi, J.D.
If you ever got handed a legal document – prepared by lawyers – chances are you probably only recognized the words “the,” “is” “correct.” This has nothing to do with your intelligence at all but more to do with the fact that many lawyers speak in a legal language no one understands – otherwise known as legalese. Chattels, rule against perpetuities, estopple, torts- what does this crap mean! Speak English!
There is a push in law schools now to stop legaleze and train young lawyers to speak and write in a way their clients can understand. This push makes perfect sense since lawyers exist to assist their clients – they are there to help them and work for them. And to young lawyers this push makes perfect sense since they understand that learning the meaning of these legal words takes time. To many it feels like learning a whole new language.
But a strange thing happens after these young lawyers pass the bar and get their first job. Chances are they are working in a firm run but older lawyers. At this first job, the young lawyers, all bright eyed and bushytailed, have a partner breathing down their neck telling them to “bump it up” and to “write like a lawyer.” At that point the young lawyer pulls all the legal jargon they spent years pushing away back into the forefront of their mind and onto paper. Older attorneys think speaking and writing in legaleze is a way to justify their price tag and their degree.
Yes there are times when you need to use a legal term and they do exist for a reason but the point I am trying to make is – law is for the people. It is living and breathing; it rules all of our lives – so it is not just for a few people to talk about and understand. Clients have the right to ask that the lawyer speak and write to them in “layman’s terms.” If the lawyer refuses – find another lawyer. To the lawyers there, speaking of lessees and other mombo-jumbo, think of yourself as a teacher who is also trying to master a topic. You don’t want to dumb what you are saying down but you do want to make it simpler. When you can digest your words into a simpler message you are in fact further mastering your craft. Albert Einstein once said “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” – food for thought.