Legalese Vs Plain Language

Legalese is a pattern of writing that is lengthy, obscure, and intelligible only to lawyers but not the man in the street.

Have you seen a contract written in legalese before? This is a typical clause.

“In the event that the Party of the First Part undertakes any act or effort whatsoever to extend such Party’s rights hereunder beyond that reasonably contemplated by the Party of the Second Part under a restrictive interpretation said Party’s understanding of their respective rights, duties, and obligations hereunder, the Party of the Second Part shall, upon provision of prior written notice to the Party of the First Part, be excused from any performance obligations hereunder to the extent that such performance obligations may indicate or express an agreement on the part of the Party of the Second Part to accept such extension of rights.”

This strange, complicated language is called “legalese.” Just as you learn French Brisbane, it is believed that legalese has its roots in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, in which the Norman (French) Conquest of England occurred. After the Norman Conquest, French was adopted into the drafting of legal documents. English advocates were not sure whether a French word would have the same meaning in English or not. So, to be on a safe side, they included both words in contracts. This resulted in the phrases commonly used today as “right, title, and interest”, where “right” and “title” are English words while “interest” is a French one. Another example is “breaking and entering”, in which the English word “breaking” combines with the French word “pairing”. This gobbledygook was passed from one generation of lawyers to another.

The Rise of Plain English: legalese was widely used in contracts until the mid-1970s when attorneys for Citibank created the first “reader-friendly” client loan agreement by eradicating legalese and replacing it with a more precise language and also adding numbered paragraphs to enable better understanding. In the following decades, contract law professors started to follow the “Plain English” concept and started teaching it to their students. In many countries there are laws that make it compulsory for certain contracts to be written in plain and understandable language.

The advantage of adopting plain English is obvious: both contracting parties will understand the contract, that is clear and unambiguous. In agreements written in legalese, terms or clauses that are not clear-cut often lead to lengthy and expensive litigation…

There is a legal maxim, caveat subscriptor, which provides that when an agreement is reduced to writing and signed by the parties, they are bound to its terms, as signature signifies assent. By signing, the parties are deemed to have read and understood the terms of the contract.

If you are presented with a contract to sign that is written in unintelligible legalese, consult your lawyer before you sign!

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