Law 466

English please!

What language is this contract in anyway?!

Quotes about Legalese

"The language of law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it."

Learned Hand, United States Judge and judicial philosopher

"A sentence should never be cruel and unusual."

William C. Burton, Chairman, The Burton Awards for Legal Achievement

"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

"A lawyer is a person who writes a 10,000-word document and calls it a "brief."

Franz Kafka, German-born writer of novels and short stories

Why do lawyers use such complicated language?

There are many theories about why lawyers use such a different form of English when they write. Truth be known, it is probably a combination of all of these below. Whatever the reason, we will help you translate the document before you sign it so you know what you're getting into.

EXAMPLE: "Insofar as manifestations of functional deficiencies are agreed by any and all concerned parties to be imperceivable, and are so stipulated, it is incumbent upon said heretofore mentioned parties to exercise the deferment of otherwise pertinent maintenance procedures."

In Other Words: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Stare Decisis. It figures I would start with words you don't know! Stare Decisis (pronounced starry dee-cy-sis), is Latin for "to stand by things decided." It is the principle in the law that lawyers look at the way prior cases were decided to help apply the law to cases today. So what happens is that the old, archaic language from cases that may have been decided 100 years ago is introduced into current cases, and becomes a part of the lawyer's written "vocabulary."

But other writers have suggested that there are different reasons.  S. Manzoli suggests:

  1. One reason is actually to make it less understandable for the client. Yep, it's intentional. The reasons? To a) to show off, b) to avoid remarks and criticism, and c) to dominate by using language the client does not understand.
  2. It's a distinctive sign for lawyers; a way for lawyers to show other lawyers how good they are.
  3. The clients expect some legalese so lawyers are compelled to use it. The whole thing seems trivial if the client actually understands it.
  4.  (S. Manzioli @squarelaw

There are, of course, terms of art in the law like there are in any other field.  But those are often used on the television shows about lawyers and generally more understandable.  And sometimes common words have completely different meanings in the law than in common speech.

Whatever the reason, if the contract you are asked to sign is important, and is not absolutely clear, we'll help you understand exactly what you're getting into.