During the First World War, Sir Roger Casement was charged with treason. But the question was: Did the law apply to acts of treason performed abroad? The answer depended on whether there was a pair of commas in the relevant section. The Act was so old that this was not clear, but the judges went down to the Public Record Office and looked up the old parchment Statute rolls, where they found markings that they interpreted as punctuation. As a result Sir Roger Casement was almost literally “hanged by a comma.” The moral of the story is: do not neglect punctuation.
Dr. Michael Arnheim, Contract Vetting
Lawyers who use plain language know it doesn’t just make good sense, it makes good cents.
Christopher Balmford, Words and Beyond, Australia
Inertia, incompetence, status, power, cost, and risk are a formidable set of motivations to keep legalese. Their tenacity should not be underestimated. One observation must be made, however. These motivations lack any intellectually or socially acceptable rationale; they amount to assertions of naked self-interest.
Robert W. Benson, Professor of Law, Loyola Law School
A sentence should never be cruel and unusual.
William C. Burton, Chairman, The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement
But do not give it to a lawyer’s clerk to write, for they use a legal hand that Satan himself will not understand.
The price of clarity, of course, is that the clearer the document the more obvious its substantive deficiencies. For the lazy or dull, this price may be too high.
Reed Dickerson, Professor of Law, Indiana University
The common language of the law is not the product of necessity, precedent, convention, or economy, but it is the product of sloth, confusion, hurry, cowardice, ignorance, neglect, and cultural poverty.
Judge Lynn N. Hughes, U.S. District Court, Houston, Texas
[Plain language] is, or should be, every bit as accurate and precise as traditional legal writing. It is considerably clearer. It is usually shorter and faster. It is strongly preferred by readers. It would greatly improve the image of lawyers.
Professor Joseph Kimble, Answering the Critics of Plain Language
The language of law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it.
Most legal writing is atrocious. Fred Rodell, Dean of Yale Law School before most of us were born, had it right when he said, “There are two things wrong with most legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.” This was in a fascinating article, Goodbye to Law Reviews, one which should be assigned reading for all law students.
Judge Mark P. Painter, Legal Writing 201
The lawyer’s greatest weapon is clarity, and its whetstone is succinctness.
Gobbledygook may indicate a failure to think clearly, a contempt for one’s clients, or more probably a mixture of both. A system that can’t or won’t communicate is not a safe basis for a democracy.
Michael Shanks, former chairman of the National Consumer Council, England