Thou Shalt Not Use Legalese

This is my second rule under the topic “How I Practice Law.”  Legalese is “language  used by lawyers, and in legal documents, which is difficult for ordinary people to  understand.” Cambridge Online Dictionary.  As we see from the definition legalese is both spoken and written. The key is for it to make no sense to a normal person regardless of it being spoken or written.

When a lawyer finishes law school he has been exposed to legal language for three years. He hears it from his professors. He reads it in cases and in laws. He is trained to use it when he speaks or writes. Thus, the young lawyer who began law school being able to carry on a conversation like a normal person has become a legal speaking machine that only other lawyers understand. He hangs with other lawyers and gets paid to be a lawyer which must mean talking and sounding like the lawyer he has been taught to be.

This is a problem because the lawyer needs to communicate with non lawyers. This is especially true for a lawyer like me who does jury trials. I need to convince normal people my injured client deserves fair compensation. The last thing I want to do is speak and write in a way that is unclear to a normal person.

I must confess for my first few years as a lawyer I believed in legalese. It made me stand out as a lawyer. Routinely I would begin letters: “This letter serves to memorialize our telephone conversation of… .” I thought it was cool to talk and write like a lawyer. I have learned through the years that a quality lawyer talks and writes like a normal person. This means normal people understand and relate to what is being said or written.

Now a days I say let’s sign the agreement rather then let’s execute the agreement; I select a jury rather then conduct voir dire; I agree rather then stipulate; I deal with the other side rather then an adversary; I say harm rather than prejudice; I pay rather then reimburse. The list goes on and on but you get the point.

I want to be a normal person fighting for justice. To accomplish justice in our legal system I try cases to a jury of twelve normal people. I talk and write like the normal people I am dealing with.  And more often then not my client and I do well.

    5 Responses to “Thou Shalt Not Use Legalese”

    1. I am a frequent reader of your blog posts. I liked the recent one and other posts on your blog so much that I have subscribed to the blog’s RSS feed in Thunderbird. Even thinking of stealing some ideas and put them to work. Keep all the good work going by posting more informative posts. Thank you. Time well spent on this post.

    2. Attorney Corrine Hagar says:

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    3. Jill Saltzman says:

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    4. Anja Keshishyan says:

      Really nicely said.


      Nice job done, indeed we lawyers sometimes like to be prestigious, of a certain distinct fraternity that is why we do use legalese, but we should now adopt the reformatory trend to plain legal language

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