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Plain English in contracts — yes, we do that

By Inga Andriessen

I started my career as a litigator and that remains about 70 per cent of my personal practice these days. Our firm employs other lawyers who do not practice any litigation and focus on the document side of law.

When I started out, 25 years ago, most contracts I litigated on were complicated and used three or four big words, when one smaller word would do. Despite having been told in law school we needed to embrace “plain English for lawyers” there was little sign that anyone was actually doing that.

As my career evolved into more drafting of leases, contracts and other documents, I refused to continue to use old style precedents and these days I estimate approximately 40 per cent of lawyers draft that way as well. Why do 60 per cent of lawyers continue to use old style, long-winded, extra words thrown in for no reason, documents?

I have a few theories, based on lawyers I have encountered over the past 25 years:

1. The lawyer is unsure of the law surrounding the document and is sticking to the precedent to ensure they don’t miss something.

2. The lawyer believes that lawyers must use complicated language to sound like a lawyer.

3. The lawyer learned English outside of Canada in a country that taught a more formal style of English than we currently use in Canada.

4. The lawyer is 100 years old and has no interest in changing their ways. OK, I’m kidding. The oldest practising lawyer I’ve ever encountered was 86.

I don’t draft “old school” style. I draft using everyday words that capture the intention of the parties signing the documents. I want our clients to be able to confidently understand their documents, not just “hope the lawyer got it right.”

If your lawyer doesn’t draft in plain English, ask why and if there is no good reason (or at least one that uses small words) come talk to us. We’re happy to help!

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