Beginner's Guide

Benefits of using plain language in legal design

Discover the benefits of using plain language in legal drafts, including increased accessibility, efficiency and confidence. Learn how to write in plain language and find resources to improve your skills.
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"Within the scope of this treatise, we will explain the benefits that flow from the judicious use of clear and unambiguous wording when drafting our legal documents."

This may feel like an overly complicated way to tell the following: in this article, we will look at the benefits of using plain language in our legal documents. This may seem bland, but this is how the majority of people experience legal documents.

What: An essential part of legal design is the use of plain language. Plain language is communicating with your audience in a way they understand the first time they read or hear it. This is another way legal design is committed to accessibility and inclusiveness.

Why it's important: Clear and straightforward language makes legal documents accessible to everyone. Low-literate people or those with a language barrier often need help understanding legal documents. Misunderstanding or inaccessibility of necessary information can have serious consequences, especially in a legal context. Clear language is an excellent way to overcome these obstacles.

So this is actually ONE sentence 🥶:

"Article 2(2)(b) of Directive 2000/78 must be interpreted as meaning that a difference of treatment indirectly based on religion or belief, arising from an internal rule of an undertaking prohibiting workers from wearing any visible sign of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace, may be justified by the employer's desire to pursue a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality with regard to its customers or users, provided, first, that that policy meets a genuine need on the part of that employer, which it is for that employer to demonstrate, taking into consideration, inter alia, the legitimate wishes of those customers or users and the adverse consequences that that employer would suffer in the absence of that policy, given the nature of its activities and the context in which they are carried out; secondly, that that difference of treatment is appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the employer's policy of neutrality is properly applied, which entails that that policy is pursued in a consistent and systematic manner; and, thirdly, that the prohibition in question is limited to what is strictly necessary having regard to the actual scale and severity of the adverse consequences that the employer is seeking to avoid by prohibition that prohibition." (Court of Justice of the EU judgment final paragraph of C-804/18: IX v WABE eV and MH Müller Handels GmbH v MJ.)

Creating better legal experiences

A better legal experience for everyone can be created by using clear language. This is not just limited to non-legal readers; it can significantly boost business as well. It starts by asking the question: what do I want to achieve and how should I communicate it? Is complicated legal jargon necessary? In most cases, it can be done without it.

For example, instead of writing "pursuant to," you can use the more simple phrase "according to." Instead of "notwithstanding," use "notwithstanding." These small changes can significantly affect the accessibility of your legal documents.

Another example of something difficult to understand: "Notwithstanding any provision herein to the contrary, the party of the first party shall have full power and discretion to take all actions necessary to protect its interests." In plain language, it would look like this: " Independent of anything else in this document, the first party may do what it must do to protect itself."

Clear language also makes legal documents more efficient. Instead of wasting time deciphering legal jargon, clients and lawyers can focus on the content of the document. This simplification can save time and money for everyone involved.

Clear language can also help build trust between parties. Between you and the client, but also between your clients and their clients using the documents with simple and easy-to-understand language. At the end of the day, people want to do business and that is based on trust. Legal matters come into play to secure the deal, but it starts with trust. Therefore, simple language is a lubricant for business.

Contracts written by lawyers, for lawyers

The use of complicated and inaccessible language has long been a stereotype of the legal industry. Breaking with this "tradition" is a great step forward toward accessibility and inclusiveness. Embracing plain language can help get rid of this negative label.

A readable contract is a short contract. Keep it short, but don't detract from the message. This is not always an easy task; Cicero said it before:

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, philosopher and statesman.

Writing long and complicated contracts is something almost any traditional lawyer can do. The superheroes of law will be those who can shorten these complex contracts and make them more understandable. 🦹

How to get a grip on writing clearly taal🕵️

To become a superhero of the legal world, writing in plain language is an important skill to master. Here are some tips on how to improve your plain language writing skills:

  1. Use simple words: Avoid long or complicated terms if a simpler alternative exists. Use words that are commonly used and easily understood by most people.
  2. Keep sentences short: Long, complicated sentences can be challenging to read and understand. Try to keep your sentences short and to the point.
  3. Use active language: In active language, the subject of the sentence acts. Using the active voice makes the writing more engaging and easier to understand. For example:
  4. Passive tone: "Failure to comply with all permits and conditions will result in bonds being withheld."
  5. Active tone: We will withhold your deposit if you do not meet all licensing requirements.
  6. Manageable complex ideas: If you need to communicate a difficult concept, break it down into smaller parts. Use headings, bullet points or (numbered) lists to make the information easier to digest. This tactic is also something that pairs very well with accessibility and UX design. You can check out our other articles for more information!
  7. Test your text: Once you have written a document, test it with someone unfamiliar with the topic/product. Ask them if they understood what was written, and if not, what parts need clarification.
  8. Read and learn from examples: Reading example texts in simple language can help you understand how to structure a text and present it succinctly.
before and after complex legal language
Before and after of complex legal language

Guidelines for clear language

The demand for the use of plain language is becoming more widespread in society. This is something governments can demand and enforce, and fortunately there is movement on this front.

Until then, you can already make a positive impact in the legal industry by simplifying issues and making legal matters accessible. But be aware that this is a difficult skill to master and, as Richard Feynman did with his teaching skills, takes a lot of dedication.

Clear language is an essential part of legal design. Incorporating it into your work can make legal documents more accessible, efficient and reliable. So, the next time you draft a legal document, try using (some) plain language.

For now, we can share a (non-complete) list of plain language lessons to get you started:

  1. The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN):
  2. The Center for Plain Language:
  3. The International Plain Language Federation:
  4. The US Government's Plain Language website:
  5. The European Union's Publications Office guide to writing in plain language:

You can also read our other beginner's guides"legal design" and"design thinking."

About the author
Bilgehan Arifoglu
Bilgehan Arifoglu
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