Personal pronouns have become a cornerstone of plain language drafting. It has become accepted worldwide that it is better to use personal pronouns for consumer contracts. But what about contracts between businesses? We believe that they can help make these legal documents beautiful, too.
Personal pronouns in consumer contracts
In horrible documents, often something as natural as the name of a party is drawn out into a mess of intricate terms. In reality, a party’s name shouldn’t be anything more complicated than “we” and “you”. Consider these two sentences:
- Upon notice by the lessor to the lessee, the lessee will pay to the lessor any sums outstanding on the lessee’s account.
- If we give you notice, you will pay us any sums outstanding on your account.
The second example is much easier to understand. Readers can see their roles quickly. Their rights and duties are simple to find. These contracts are signed by many different people every day. Simplicity and clarity are important. And this is why many laws across the world require plain language, including our own. Personal pronouns help with that.
Why should we use personal pronouns?
They make the document more immediate and physical. Using terms like “the vendor” or “the client” distances a reader from the contract. The document is almost talking about two strangers, not the two human beings signing it. Words like “we” and “you” make it easier to see and internalise what you, as a person, are agreeing to.
They are quicker to read. Most people don’t see themselves as “transferors” or “transferees”. Using words that aren’t immediately relateable can cause ‘hiccups’ while reading. They break the flow of thought and force readers to mentally translate the terms before continuing. This slows down both understanding and how long it takes to sign the document.
They provide clarity and certainty. Legal documents are effective when both parties are sure of who they are in the agreement. If a contract is normally drafted and sent by one party, it makes sense for them to be “we”, and for the recipient to be “you”. Defining these terms in the beginning is important, but gives the body of the document a clearer, more conversational tone.
Personal pronouns in business contracts
There is no rule about personal pronouns in business to business contracts. It is your choice whether to use them or not. You may instead want to use the client’s name (“Joan Smith”) or title (“lessor”).
But it is widely accepted that business to business contracts should also be drafted in plain language, and the principles remain the same. All legal writing should be clear and simple enough to be used in conversation with the reader. Unfortunately, many legal drafters don’t do this. Instead they complicate their writing, as if a judge will read it. This means that they assume the parties will end up in court. They do nothing to prevent this from happening in the first place.
Most documents are only ever read by the people involved. Even if those people are representing a company, they need to be able to understand the company’s rights and duties simply. This will help them to make sure the company follows those duties, and never needs to fight for its rights. And preventing costly legal battles is important in a business setting.
We believe that the principles of plain language drafting can help your business to manage its legal relationships. Even something as small as personal pronouns can have a big impact.