Clear Communication Creates Community

Posted: December 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Musings on Writing (and Life), Plain English: Why | No Comments »

It’s a fast, loud world—a world in which virtually everyone has a voice in the collective conversation that is the Internet. Our fancy law degrees are no longer enough to make people listen to us, so we may no longer hide behind time-worn conventions of legal writing. We lawyers will forfeit our voice in the collective conversation—and much of our influence—if we don’t learn to communicate more clearly.

But if we can learn to communicate clearly, people may begin to understand us. If they understand us, they may begin to trust us more. They may even begin to listen to and learn from what we say. We will have joined the conversation.

After all, communication, at its best, is about community.


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Plain = Honest = Trustworthy

Posted: December 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Most Popular Posts, Musings on Writing (and Life), Plain English: Why | No Comments »

Why is plain English such a powerful writing tool? Plain English establishes your credibility because it tells the reader that you speak a language that they already know and understand. It also shows your humanity so it creates a genuine connection between you and your reader. And plain English is clear and transparent. It reassures the reader that you are not trying to pull any fast moves with language, so it leads the reader to regard you as honest and trustworthy.

The most valuable asset that any lawyer has is trust—the trust of our clients, the trust of our colleagues, the trust of the public. A lawyer’s reputation is simply the public manifestation of that trust. Because plain English shows your honesty and humanity, it promotes trust. So plain English should be one of the foundations on which lawyers build careers and reputations.

How trustworthy is your writing?



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Why plain English?

Posted: June 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Mission Critical Stuff, Plain English: Why | Tags: , | No Comments »

Now that you have spent your three years of law school learning a foreign language, the suggestion that you write in plain English may hit hard. Why plain English? What about all those expensive new words? The fancy legalese? The scholarly Latin?

Our clients speak plain English and you should too. Plain English is clean and transparent so it fosters trust. It’s easily understood so it promotes justice and order.  And it shows empathy for our poor readers.  If you want your readers to listen to and learn from what you say, you need to use the language they already know.  Plain English adds value because it makes legal thought accessible.

Not only that, but your clients will like you for it.

I’m posting specific tips and pet peeves under Plain English Tips


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How plain is plain English?

Posted: June 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Mission Critical Stuff, Plain English: Why | Tags: , | No Comments »

Plain English is conversational English. If you would not use a word or phrase when speaking with a colleague, don’t use it in your writing. Imagine you are writing for your Aunt Agatha, your neighbor or your friends on the train. These people will keep you real because they are very very smart and they will not tolerate fussy, impenetrable sentences. (And if you use fussy, impenetrable language in conversation, you problems are far too deep to be resolved in a writing program!)

Simply say each sentence aloud to edit for plain English and to cure clutter and grammatical errors. If you are smart enough to have made it through law school, the grammatical rules of modern English are embedded in your ear. Saying your sentences aloud is the only tool an educated writer needs for effective sentence-level editing.

And plain English does not mean simple English. You are entitled to use your massive vocabulary. But use it to achieve precision and nuance, not to show off your supposed intellectual superiority.

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