When converting legal documents into plain language (or plain legal documents) there are some quick wins – some easy changes that you can make that make a big difference.  Converting a legal document into plain language takes time, but these quick wins can be done reasonably quickly and result in significant improvements in readability. When converting legal documents into plain language, remember there are some very important things to keep in mind.

Plain legal document quick wins

So, here are some quick wins:

  • Convert every “shall” to a “may” or a “must” – “shall” isn’t plain English and has multiple meanings
  • Which” should in may instances be either be “that” or “, which
  • shall be entitled to” becomes “may
  • shall be obliged to” becomes “must
  • be entitled to” gets deleted
  • be responsible for” gets deleted
  • notwithstanding” becomes “despite
  • Delete “in terms hereof
  • and/or” becomes “or” – because that is what it means – “or” includes “and
  • “/” becomes “or
  • should” becomes “if
  • in order to” becomes “to
  • in terms of the provisions of clause [number] below” becomes “under clause [number]
  • Delete the word “such” or if necessary replace it with “the” or “any” – there is no good reason to use the word “such” – such can be used to provide examples
  • Delete the words “aforesaid” and “aforegoing” – both legalese
  • in terms of” becomes “under
  • in the event of” becomes “if
  • 10 (ten)” becomes just “ten” – word-numeral doublets are not necessary – no good reason to use them.  To maximise readability it is better to spell out numbers one to ten
  • Minimise cross references  e.g “clause below” or “clause above
  • whatsoever” becomes “any” – “whatsoever” is a legalism
  • inter alia” becomes “amongst others” – English is preferred to Latin and “inter alia” is often incorrectly used
  • including without limitation” and “include, but not limited to” becomes “include” – but you must include a clause that enables you to do this.
  • hereby“, “hereby“, hereunder“, and “hereto” gets deleted
  • terms and conditions” becomes”terms
  • same” gets replaced or deleted
  • thereof” gets deleted
  • Delete all “acknowledges” and “agrees

More tips for Plain Legal Documents

Some not so quick wins – but that bring tremendous clarity:

  • Make it gender neutral
  • Prefer the active voice over the passive voice
  • Turn -ion words into verbs when you can
  • Prefer the singular over the plural – e.g. “example/s” becomes “example
  • Parties” becomes “parties” – there is no good reason why “parties” should be a defined term
  • Improve the document design – use attention-getters such as bullets

For further reading, you can also download a list of plain language words. You must bear in mind though that these rules are not absolute and there are many exceptions.

We can help you to convert your legal documents into plain legal documents.