Writing is not usually seen as an important language skill for many students of English. Speaking skills and achieving spoken fluency are often seen as more important. However, in a profession such as the law, having excellent written skills is vital. Whether you are writing an email to a colleague or drafting an important contract, your writing needs to be of a high quality, accurate, and also readable.

Some international lawyers find the idea of writing and drafting legal documents in English challenging? Why? There are many reasons. However, the main thing to remember is that English lawyers are now expected to write and draft in a particular style, known as ‘plain English’. For several reasons that will become obvious, this should encourage you.

Legal documents used to be written in a style, sometimes called ‘the traditional style’, that made them very difficult for a reader to understand. For example, the traditional style used:

· archaic language not used by anyone outside the legal profession;

· Latin words and phrases;

· grammar structures which were unnatural to non-lawyers. These made reading and understanding a legal document very difficult; and

· minimal or no punctuation.

In contrast, ‘Plain English’ is a modern style of written English which is clear and understandable to a person reading the document. Lawyers are now expected to write and draft their legal documents using the modern style.

In this series of blog posts, we will look at some tips to help you write and draft legal documents, correspondence, etc, in a modern, plain English style.

As an exercise, look at the following legal text. It is from a letter written by a lawyer to her client.

“In order to keep you fully informed as to the current progress of your matter, I am writing to inform you that we have made it perfectly clear to the counterparty’s lawyer, by way of a letter which was sent to him last week and which was dated 9th December, that what we are actually seeking to secure is the incorporation into the contract of an exclusive jurisdiction clause, essentially giving the English courts exclusive jurisdiction in the event that a dispute arises between you and the counterparty in relation to the performance of the contract, but in the event that the other side does not agree to an exclusive jurisdiction clause in those terms, we will need to consider all possible alternatives, if, of course, you still wish to enter into the contract at all at that point in time and given those circumstances.”

Look carefully at the text and ask yourself how easy it is to understand. Are there any ways you can think of to ‘simplify’ the text to make it more easily understandable?

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