Plain English

The Model Documents in the New Guide, and the sample provisions and commentary in the Encyclopedia of Ground Leases, are all written in Plain English as opposed to the convoluted and difficult legalese that so often appears in legal documents. A nonlawyer should be able to understand the contents of these documents and provisions, though not necessarily the logic and legal principles that drive them. Old habits are hard to break, and many bad old habits were once taught as proper lawyerly writing. So using Plain English requires constant vigilance.

What does “Plain English” writing require? One could write an entire book about the topic. Many have. But these guidelines represent a good start:

  • Avoid legalisms, such as “including without limitation,” words starting with “here” or “there” (such as “herewith” and “thereby”), and repetition of numbers as numerals and words.
  • Don’t use section cross references. Instead use intuitively and helpfully defined terms and other measures to avoid cross references. This prevents mistakes and inconsistencies. It also gives the reader clues about whatever is being cross-referenced.
  • Express the general rule first. Then present its clarifications, exceptions, and qualifications, each as a separate concept. Make each idea a separate sentence where possible. Don’t interrupt the flow of the general rule.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short, simple, and direct.
  • Make each point once. Make related points in close proximity. These measures shorten documents and prevent inconsistencies and duplication, which itself causes inconsistencies.
  • Minimize use of parentheses. Instead, figure out a different way to make the same point.
  • Prefer verbs to nouns.
  • Present concepts in an orderly and logical way.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Vary from these guidelines whenever it makes sense. But do it deliberately, carefully, and rarely—not just out of laziness, habit, or inattention.

Because they are written in Plain English, the Encyclopedia of Ground Leases and the Model Documents in the New Guide sometimes do not always read like typical legal documents. A lawyer might think they don’t sound right. But a nonlawyer might read and understand them. That’s a good thing.

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