Every lawyer needs an editor, says Steven Stark, a former litigator who taught legal writing at Harvard Law School.
After a decade or so of general copy-editing, I’m now into legal copy-editing to debunk the myth that legal writing is sacrosanct and needs no editing. Legal writing is not sacrosanct and, like any other writing, it needs editing—sometimes more so.
As a plain-English practitioner, I have been spreading among lawyers the word of plain language, urging them to avoid archaic, obscure and over-elaborate language. But I find lawyers in India are die-hard traditionalists as though they are 'sentries to the Victorian heritage’.
Clients abhor legalese. They want lawyers to communicate like ordinary mortals – in plain and understandable language.
Imagine the plight of thousands of people reading home loan agreements, insurance policies, credit card documents and routine legislation. They cry and plead for some sensibility in legal writing. But nothing happens. Maybe, lawyers think dense writing sounds smart and simple writing sorts ill with dignity of their profession.
Editing is essential to the writing process and no writer can bypass it. But lawyers often do. They say because of busy court schedule, deadlines, and rush, they hardly find time to edit and produce quality work. But it’s no reason for sloppy, obscure writing that carries the stamp, “A lawyer wrote this”.
I adore plain English. Plain words are my stock-in-trade and plain language my credo. Rewriting in plain English is what I specialize in.
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