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Legal documents and plain language

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John Giles

We all enter into agreements regularly, whether it is a negotiated agreement or a retailer’s standard terms and conditions. Most of the time, people do not understand many (or even most) of the terms that they agree to. Why? Simply because many agreements drafted by lawyers are full of legal jargon and complex, archaic words that many people do not understand. Even lawyers often have to read an act, a judgment, or a horrible agreement a second or a third time to really understand the meaning.

many agreements drafted by lawyers are full of legal jargon and complex, archaic words that many people do not understand

We are big fans of legal writing in plain language and we always try to draft in plain legal language. When it comes to legal documents (including agreements) the most important benefit of writing in plain language is probably that all the parties to the agreement (and not only the lawyers) actually understand all the terms and know what they have agreed. You want your legal documents in plain language because the benefits are significant and in fact soon the law will also require them to be so. The Consumer Protection Act (which we anticipate will be enacted this year) specifically requires consumer agreements to be in a plain understandable language and you need to make sure that your agreements will comply with this requirement.

However, when drafting in plain language or translating documents into plain language, it is important to make sure that:

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