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Michael Lewis discusses the importance of "plain English writing".



I am an advocate of the use of plain language in the drafting of legal documents.

Plain language is both efficient and effective. A reader should be able to better understand words written in plain English than those written in traditional legal language.

Plain language can be just as precise, if not more so, than traditional legal language.

The move towards the adoption in plain language began in the 1970s in the USA, UK, Australia and Canada.

NRMA Insurance introduced its “Plain English” car insurance policy in 1976.

In 1978 the State of New York introduced its plain language law (called “Sullivans Law”) which determined that all residential leases and consumer contracts be written in understandable language.

Here are some suggested examples and criteria:

·      Avoid the use of “and/or”.

·      Never use the word “shall” – it too is ambiguous; rather, use words such as “must”, “may”, “may not” depending upon what is meant.

·      Draft sentences in the present tense.

·      Find alternatives for words or phrases such as “bona fide””, “bequeath”, “at this point in time”, “for and on behalf of”, “hereof”, “not less than”; “the same”, “the said”, “Enclosed please find”; also say farewell to strings of synonyms such as “fit and proper”, “keep and maintain”, “goods and chattels” to name just a few.

·      Where possible, use the active voice not the passive.

The leading text on this subject in Australia is “Plain Language for Lawyers” by Michѐle Asprey from which I have drawn some of these thoughts.

“Be short, be simple, be human”.

Michael Lewis has been a senior partner at the firm of Robinson Cox and then of its successor Clayton Utz. After working as a consultant at Sceales & Co, Michael joined Leaker Partners as a senior lawyer, where he now maintains a practice in wills, estates and succession matters. Michael’s mission is to be a sound and understanding lawyer to people in need of estate planning advice and the management of deceased estates, and he champions the use of plain language in the law.