Clarity for Lawyers: Effective Legal Language (3rd edition)

Mark Adler and Daphne Perry

£34.95, Law Society

We all need to be clear. I once received a letter from a solicitor in a divorce case which said: ‘Our client denies he was drunk when he saw the children. The reverse was the case.’ It reads as though the children were drunk.

I belong to a generation brought up with little teaching of grammar or spelling. My impression is that things have not improved with later generations. To be able to write clearly with style and accuracy is an art which takes time to learn. I am not sure technology has helped. Spellchecker is good but not foolproof. As this book points out, you can now get ‘style-checker’ software which does things like count words and paragraph breaks and offers advice on sentence length and readability.

Clarity for lawyers

Clarity is important because we need to be understood. Our main role is explaining things to a client and being persuasive. Different skills are needed depending on who we contact. We might write three very different communications about the same event. For example, after a court hearing letters to the client, other party and court would involve different styles and vocabulary.

Poor language, spelling and grammar implies poor work. We need to think about what is most important in a document. We need to keep on checking and rechecking.

Yes, languages change but that does not mean that there is not an acceptable standard at any time.

The next edition of this book might need more on the modern world. Emails and texts lend themselves to informality and misunderstanding. Emails are easily forwarded to third parties or accidentally sent to everyone with disastrous results. Perhaps lawyers should have a range of emoticons.

We all need to be concise and avoid stylistic errors such as cliches, which are our bread and butter. There is a temptation perhaps for lawyers to be overly formal and think a four-page letter sent by fax, post and email is better than a one-page email. There is much for all to learn in this book.

So, I hereby give you notice that there isn’t not no real excuse for stuffy or bad language as I have heretofore argued ad infinitem and seriatim. LOL (smiley face).

David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup and Scott