The Ugly Secret About Legalese

By now, you’ve probably heard the argument against legalese. Advocates of plain English emphasize its ease of understanding and money-saving properties. So why is it you still cling to your “Now Come”s and “heretofore”s?

I recently had a conversation with a fellow lawyer after reviewing his 11 page prenuptial agreement. The pages were crowded with legalese and redundant lists. Why? I asked.

He told me that the client wanted to know their money was well spent. To this lawyer, that meant handing over a document that was meaty and obviously written by a sophisticated attorney. He also wanted to be absolutely certain no circumstance could fall through the cracks.

The problem: no one, even other attorneys, could plow through the document in one sitting. It was entirely unreadable. His clients were relying on his representation that their interests were covered, rather than being able to see it for themselves. That reliance, he argued, kept them coming back to him instead of trying to handle it themselves.

It’s a tempting argument. In this day of increasing do-it-yourself legal representation, we in the industry are doing everything we can to make ourselves seem relevant and necessary. For this lawyer, that meant making his legal documents sound important and complicated.

But that really doesn’t serve our clients, or our long-term business interests. The best lawyers receive a lot of work out of referrals from past clients. To do that, the attorneys have to build trust with their clients.

By writing in verbose legalese, you give the impression that you have something to hide. Even when the clients’ requests are perfectly appropriate, by burying them in words, you make the document seem dishonest. Your client may think:

If you are hiding things from my opponents, what keeps you from hiding things from me?

Clients will be much more receptive to a clearly worded and easily understood document, paired with clear, personalized legal advice. That open and honest relationship will build the kind of trust that results in referrals.

The ugly secret about legalese is that it is the security blanket for lawyers unsure of their own work. Rather than obscuring your demands in “wherefore”s and “hereinafter”s, state them clearly and support them with strong advocacy. Your clients will thank you for it with referrals. If you need help rewriting your forms in plain English, contact ghostwriter Lisa Schmidt for a consultation.

One thought on “The Ugly Secret About Legalese

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