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 they have been exposed to legal language for three years. They hear it from their professors. They read it in cases and statutes. They are trained to use it when they speak or write. Thus, the law student 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 fully understand. They work and socialize with other lawyers and get paid to be a lawyer which means talking and sounding like the lawyer they have been taught to be.

This is a problem because the lawyer needs to communicate with non lawyers. This is especially true for a lawyer  who does jury trials. These lawyers need to convince normal people their case deserves fair compensation. Success is more likely if they  speak and write in a way that is clear 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 than let’s execute the agreement; I select a jury rather than conduct voir dire; I agree rather than stipulate; I deal with the other side rather than an adversary; I say harm rather than prejudice; I pay rather than reimburse. 

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 than not my client and I do well.

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7 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:

    Smart, but entertaining, as are many of your blogs. I read through the past entries over the last few days, and I must say I think I’m in love.

  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

  6. sf says:

    rather THAN, not rather THEN..
    come on, man. an attorney should at least know proper grammar.

    • Trudell says:

      Thank you for your comment, I agree an attorney should not make the mistake of
      confusing then and than and making other languish mistakes.

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