Why All the Legalese?

In his book, Garner on Language and Writing, Bryan Garner quotes several of the all-too-famous among us lawyers about their disdain for legalese. Here are a few gems:

Legalese is jargon. All professions have it. All professions use it as a substitute for thinking, and they all use it in a way that makes them appear to be superior. Actually, they appear to be buffoons for using it. The legal profession may be the worst of all professions in using jargon. It's not necessary to communicate that way. You're really not communicating, and you're not really thinking. I do a lot of television, and I do a lot of articulating of positions on behalf of clients. One of the reasons I'm asked to do that is that I understand that the people on the other side of that camera don't want you to speak like a lawyer. That's a pejorative term: talking like a lawyer is, to most people, talking in terms that sound boorish, condescending, and unintelligible. And lawyers need to be able to speak to people and forget the jargon and forget the legalese because you can communicate the same thoughts without being swept up in the technicalities of a particular issue. They want to know what you're talking about. What do you mean? If you can't express that, you shouldn't wast people's time. Theodore Olson

One, I think that the use of jargon is a crutch. I think it's way of avoiding working harder--if you will, a way of avoiding putting yourself in the position of the reader. And I also think it shows an unfortunate lack of creativity. If you're not creative in your writing, I'm afraid you might not be creative in your thinking, and the best lawyers are the most creative ones. James P. Clark

Legalese consists of empty words that don't have any persuasive character. Speaking plain English is just so much more persuasive than loading your brief up with the wherefores and the henceforths. They're just archaic and don't really have any persuasive quality. It should all be about persuasion, and I think lawyers get lost in their jargon in brief-writing and in other aspects of advocacy. Barbara M.G. Lynn

Recently, a client asked me to file an elective motion for him. I asked him about the grounds and he mumbled some facts and said, "You know how to dress it up." I didn't dress it up. I rephrased a couple of words around, but drafted the motion in plain English. The client called to complain about my wording (I had emailed him a PDF copy before leaving for the weekend), but before he got anywhere I told him that the court had granted everything requested in the motion. Without thinking about what he was saying, he blurted out, "Why am I paying you all this money? Sheesh, I could have written that myself."