Legal English? (take II)

Subject: Legal English? (take II)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, "Downing, David" <DavidDowning -at- Users -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 15:21:35 -0500

David Downing, responding to my somewhat tongue-in-cheek desciption of legal English as being incomprehensible to non-lawyers, responded: <<One thing that helps, to some extent, is understanding the overall rationale for legal English. In a legal document, everything must be made 100% explicit.>>

While this is the commonly reported justification, it's disingenous at best and evidence of widespread incompetence among lawyers at worst. (I'd suggest that the true situation lies somewhere in between: lawyers, like any other professionals including us, come in a wide range of skills and ethical outlooks. The results of their work vary accordingly.) The number of lawsuits based on unclear, imprecise, and willfully misinterpreted wording boggles the mind. If the language were so clear, there'd be no need for jurisprudence: laws and contracts would speak for themselves, and judges and lawyers wouldn't have to rely on the opinions of former colleagues over highly stylized interpretations of wordings.

Harsh though that is, I'm not writing to dismiss the entire profession of law as a con game and all lawyers as con artists. Law is not a con game and lawyers aren't con men--the goal of legal language is indeed to produce something comprehensive, and lawyers are generally more interested in avoiding misunderstandings than in profiting from them. But the results suggest that the legal profession as a whole could benefit from a large number of skilled editors.

Lest I be accused of hubris, I hasten to point out that good though my writing generally is, I've long since stopped counting the number of times editors have saved my bacon. And a quick perusal of the techwr-l archives will reveal ample evidence that I have clay feet like any other writer. The bottom line is that any writer, including a lawyer, will benefit from a good editor's work, and the more complex the work, the more they'll benefit.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


Legal English (was RE: Using M-dash and N-dash?): From: Downing, David

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