Last time, this blog featured the first of three good reasons why the government and business organizations should continue to use puzzling, confusing language in their communications with the public. In this entry, we provide the second reason why gobbledygook is the better way to go.
Reason #2: Lawyers love gobbledygook
In an earlier blog entry, we noted that the federal government has exempted legislation from following the guidelines of the Plain Writing Act. This is ridiculous and counterproductive, but the reason for it is simple. Lawyers love gobbledygook.
Have you ever become frustrated when you tried to understand a court record or other legal document? Were you so confused and uncertain of its meaning that you had to pay a lawyer to figure it out? You and I may not like jargon-ridden, convoluted language, but the legal profession thrives on it. Use of gobbledygook in legal documents is a long-standing tradition. It promotes contradictions, ambiguities and vagueness, which result in misunderstandings, differences of interpretation, disagreements—and costly lawsuits. We weren’t surprised to learn that even where documents other than regulations are concerned, federal agency employees often report that lawyers frustrate their attempts to implement plain language.
One notable exception: Joe Kimble
Not all lawyers love gobbledygook. In fact, Joe Kimble hates it. He believes that the legal profession needs to end its reliance on what he calls “the fog of legalese.” Kimble, a former staff attorney with the Michigan Supreme Court, is currently a professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School and a respected expert on legal writing issues.
Kimble has been an outspoken and convincing advocate for use of plain language by the legal profession. He’s written extensively on the topic. He was also a founding director of the Center for Plain Language. Joe Kimble states flatly that “Plain language would reduce litigation by preventing the unnecessary confusion that traditional legal writing produces.”
Don’t be alarmed—nothing will change
Reducing litigation would be tragic, at least for lawyers. But opponents of plain language shouldn’t worry just yet—after all, there are over 1.22 million lawyers practicing in the USA, and most don’t share Kimble’s views. They’re quite happy with the status quo. It’s a safe bet that most will continue to oppose attempts to reduce the gobbledygook in their documents. Despite the efforts of Joe Kimble and other plain language advocates, we don’t expect that anyone will be able to wean lawyers from their addiction to the fog of legalese. After all, it’s putting money in their pockets.
Advocates of plain language will find lots of valuable information at Joe Kimble’s Web site. What’s your experience with legalese “fog”? If you have a memorable example, we invite you to share it with us. Send us something especially interesting and/or humorous and we may make it the subject of a future blog entry.