Lending Library

Preparing Legal Documents Nonlawyers Can Read & Understand

By Wayne Schiess

Lending Library Number: 105

Too many legal documents intended for nonlawyers are dense, archaic, and unnecessarily complex. In truth, they simply contain traditional legalese: jargon, terms of art, long sentences, and complicated syntax. What's more, these documents sometimes contain mistakes of English and sometimes of substantive law, both of which are harder to spot and fix because the text is written in traditional legalese. Ultimately, these documents fail of their essential purpose: to communicate binding legal content to a nonlegal reader.

This concise book from ABA Publishing shows you how to adjust your writing to accommodate the nonlegal audience. Through the chapters in this book you'll find tips designed to improve your legal writing for the lay audience as well as examples of poor legal writing, common errors, why they should be fixed, and how to fix them. Readers will find sentence structure advice as well as guidance on organization, tone, format, and document design. Using a short, clear, and easy-to-read format, this book is ideal for practicing lawyers or law students who want their material to be understood and not ignored.

The information in the book can improve almost any document that needs to be understood by the reader. These documents include:

  • Apartment leases
  • Basic contracts
  • Consumer regulations
  • Credit-card agreements
  • Employee manuals and handbooks
  • Homeowner_s association bylaws
  • Insurance policies
  • Jury instructions
  • Opinion or advice letters
  • Public notices
  • Releases
  • Software licenses and user agreements
  • Website disclaimers
  • Wills

For nonlawyers, a colloquial tone is not only good, it's necessary. It may be foreign to most lawyers, but you can learn. You can learn to invite the reader in, while abandoning the fear that it won't sound legal, while forgetting the approach of writing to impress. This book will teach you how.