Plain English is a way of writing and making the time to edit to simplify
Lawyers' writing is notorious for being overly complex and full of needless words and phrases.
For many years (centuries) the public and some lawyers have had this concern. Since at least the late 1950's legal scholars and attorneys have spoken of this problem.
I've been reading about the subject of plain English for 15+ years. And working to improve my skills at it.
Like most people, I don't enjoy reading legal documents that need a good, serious edit to be more readable.
The theory behind Plain English
I consider attorney author Bryan Garner to be the leading advocate for a change to a more direct writing style.
He's written about 20 books, with his newest being 'Garner's Guidelines for Drafting & Editing Contracts.'
For an example of his approach, he states that lawyers who use the words 'said' or 'shall' in just about every sentence are misguided. Yet, it is the tip of the iceberg.
Another book I thoroughly enjoyed was Kenneth Adams' 'Adams on Contract Drafting.'
This books explains that in any legal document, we use roughly 7 different categories of language. Each category serves a different function.
One category gives the power to do something (language of authorization), another states a legal duty (language of obligation), and so on.
My documents are plainER, not exactly plain
I work hard to make my writing as clear as possible. (BTW - It's an everyday effort, and as this website shows, it is not perfected.)
And, because some legal documents have technical tax or trust law meaning, not all aspects of our documents are easy to understand without at least a second re-reading.
These tax provisions are sometimes needed because Massachusetts and the IRS continue to have an estate tax.
To better deal with these facts, and to work towards lower estate tax, tax provisions are in some documents. Typically, it is the Massachusetts estate tax of assets over $1 million that is the biggest problem.
Your gross taxable estate includes all you own, in any form. This includes residence, IRAs, 403(b), life insurance, and other assets.
In a nutshell, we need less than simple language for some documents. So, maybe 'plainER' better describes some of our documents.
However, apart from these special provisions, I work hard to eliminate much of the needless words that make reading legal documents difficult - and nearly impossible. Even for us attorneys.
I find that working in this particular urban locale (Boston and surrounding areas) that more and more people are educated and want to understand how their estate planning works.
Particularly those whom live and work in the greater Boston area, such as Lexington, MA. And the nearby localities of Winchester, Belmont, Waltham, Lincoln, Bedford, Concord, Burlington, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Boston, Somerville, and Watertown, MA.
Lawyers use different approaches in their drafting of trust, wills, and other estate planning documents.
Here are some thoughts on revocable living trusts for residents near us in Lexington, MA, where I live and work.
Plain English, not legalese: I've worked to reduce unnecessary words in our documents. Every day when I write letters to clients and other people I work hard to edit, and then edit again, each time to write more directly.
You may find the article in The Economist article on the topic of plain English.
The New York Times agreed that plain English is the way to go.
For example, I've eliminated the words 'said' 'heretofore' and 'herewith'
These words - and similar ones - get in the way when we read. Using them can reduce the effectiveness of our documents.
If you don't fully read the document because it is utterly boring and difficult to understand then this can easily lead to not knowing what the document legally does.
I (usually) don't use two or three words when one word nicely does the job.
I'd rather not use the same word in English and in French, just because lawyers did this in England --- hundreds of years ago.
Active, not passive wording: I prefer to write sentences that has a person taking an action, rather than having something happen to the person.