SAN FRANCISCO — Adobe Systems Inc. released its internal legal style guide this week, trying to bridge the communication gap between lawyers and, well, everyone else.
The handbook instructs attorneys on how to write documents comprehensible to fellow practitioners, to the businesses they advise and to customers. See the full guide here or read on for a few of our favorite writing tips.
1. Write in clear, plain English
Use short sentences, about 20 words apiece, and write in the active voice. (The customer reviewed the document. Not, the document was reviewed by the customer.) Avoid double negatives. Use the present tense and avoid “surplus words.” A simple “when” is preferable to writing “at the time at which.”
2. Abstain from legalese
Avoiding Latin and archaic phrases—such as aforementioned, in lieu of and hereunder—is beneficial to the reader, who may not be a lawyer. Eliminating jargon also allows for quicker and easier reading. Sub amid for admist, among for amongst and later for thereafter.
3. Thou shalt not use “shall”
Adobe’s guide deems the word shall “notoriously ambiguous.” Use “must” to mean “is required to” and “may” to mean “has discretion to.”
4. Avoid redundancy
There’s no benefit to repetitive phrases such as “full and complete,” “indemnify and hold harmless,” and “null and void.”
5. Strike the phrase and/or
Adobe’s guide cites a Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion that lambasts “and/or” as “neither word nor phrase, the child of the brain of someone too lazy or too dull to express his precise meaning, or too dull to know what he did mean.” The phrase often sneaks into contractual provisions. Instead of falling back on and/or, lawyers should consider whether just one of the conjunctions will do. In a true and/or situation, try this construction: “You may choose chocolate or vanilla or both.”
6. Eliminate provisos
Sentences that include “provided that” are confusing to the reader, the guide says, and often the term itself is misused. Better to avoid it all together and substitute words like “except,” “but” or “and,” depending on the meaning.
7. Select gender-neutral language
Endeavor to find nongendered terms, unless referring to a particular individual. For instance, refer to workers, instead of workmen, or a reasonable person, rather than a reasonable man. Writing in the plural can help with awkward pronouns. For instance, “People who write in plain English endear themselves to the reader.”
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