Plain English

Introduction: 15-Year Anniversary Theme Issue


by George Hathaway

Goal VII-Public understanding of and respect for the justice system and profession.

Goal VIII-The openness of the profession.

-State Bar of Michigan

Goal: To promote the use of clear writing by legal professionals.

-Plain English Committee of State Bar of Michigan

''It is not the critics who count, nor those who point out where the strong stumbled, or where doers of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to those in the arena whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strive valiantly, who err, and who come up short again and again, who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause. Those who at best know the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place will never be with those cold timid souls who never knew victory or defeat.''

-Theodore Roosevelt (1917)

''Press On. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; Nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.''

-Anonymous

''An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning; another instance of the fact that the future lies with youth.''

-The Philosophy of Physics, Max Planck (1905)

''Don't hope to convert your peers; the next generation will believe you.''

-Advice of geologist Charles Lyell to Charles Darwin

''Heavy. But now that we've made it through Y2K, let's finish off legalese-15 years is long enough.''

-George Hathaway (2000)

It's been 15 years since we started with our first theme issue in November 1983 (actually 161_6, but we're rounding it off because it sounds better), and the plain English movement in the law has come a long way since then. After our 10-year theme issue in January 1994, and after 160 ''Plain Language'' columns, plain English (clear writing) is now on the verge of a breakthrough. See our website for our 15 years of previous materials. Here's the latest for the first month of the new millennium:

• Why I Wrote The Language of the Law by David Mellinkoff-It all started in 1963. Mellinkoff tells us how he wrote The Language of the Law, the book that started the plain English movement in the law. This is part of his Memoirs, which he is now writing. You're the first to see this chapter. So if you don't read anything else-read this.

• An Overview of the Plain English Movement in the Law-15 Years Later-And if you ''only have time'' to read two articles-read this also.

• Plain Language Columns-160 columns can't be wrong.

• Plain English in Michigan Statutes and Rules-Carol Cousineau and Roger Peters-A Michigan success story.

• Plain Language in the Federal Government-Annetta Cheek-A federal success story.

• Plain English in the Department of Attorney General-Another Michigan success story.

• Plain English, Plain Sense-Eric Pinckert-When the State Bar formed the Plain English Committee, the big news in the plain English movement was the New York Plain English bill, and the major proponent of plain English in New York was Allen Siegel. Longevity counts. That's why we are pleased to publish the views of his national writing firm, Siegel and Gale.

• The Successes of Plain English at the SEC after the First Year-Marty Dunn and Kristina Schillinger-Rule 421(d)-game, set, match.

• The Plain English Campaign-We end our theme issue with an article by Chrissie and George Maher, who started the plain English movement in England in 1979 (about the same time that the State Bar of Michigan formed the Plain English Committee). The Plain English Campaign has done a super job. It has endured, has continued to grow, and is now worldwide.



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