What is Legalese and Why You Should Keep it Simple

If you own an online business, you should always protect your interests with some type of legal framework. It is essential to have at least some guidelines for your customers to provide a clear structure for how you operate.

Some of the ways to help you protect your interests include making terms and conditions and a privacy policy available on your website. Depending on your needs, you may also put a copyright notice as well as warranty and liability disclaimers to help you protect yourself further.

Does it sound complicated already? Wait until you start writing or reading these legal documents.

A question most people don’t realize is the more legalese you use in your legal documents, the more difficult and off-putting you make it for your potential customers to move forward.

So just how much legalese is too much and why you should even bother with it?

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What is Legalese?

Legalese is a certain kind of language used by most lawyers or those in the legal profession. It’s a form of technical writing for contracts, company by-laws, and other legal documents.

Legalese is like a complicated math problem or a scientific report that only the experts can decipher. It is wordy and filled with Latin words and phrases. It may also be grammatically complicated because of its embedded clauses, passive verbs, and long sentences.

Many businesses adopt legalese because it makes a contract or a legal document sound more valid and official. Some businesses also believe that using legalese brings authority and gives their company more weight and credence.

Let’s look at some of them.

Examples of Legalese Used by Lawyers

Here’s a great example of legalese used to make something very simple incredibly long and difficult to read:

In witness whereof, the parties hereunto have set their hands to these presents as a deed on this (day month and year) hereinbefore mentioned.

However, in plain English, this simply means:

Signed on [date specified].

Here’s another example:

Any data, reports, drawings, documents or other things or information provided by (company) to the (provider/consultant/talent) during the performance of services under this Agreement and any reports, drawings or other writings required under the services of this Agreement shall be and remain the sole property of the (company) at all times. The (provider/consultant/talent) shall return or provide to the (company) such documents, etc. by the completion date and before full payment of the compensation herein.

In plain English, this means that the company owns the work that a person has been hired to perform or complete. Much easier to read and understand isn’t it?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Legalese

Lawyers have been trained to use legalese for centuries and they are expected to be well-versed in this language. If practiced with care, legalese can be quite effective in eliminating the ambiguities of legal documents.

Different words can be open to different interpretations by different people. This results in consequences that could be problematic.

To avoid this, lawyers use legalese and prepare long-winded documents to make sure that every interpretation is covered.

However, legalese has some serious downsides. Despite its lengthy explanations per sentence, legal documents may still be twisted in a costly battle in court.

When and Why You Should Try to Avoid Using Legalese?

For years now, there has been a movement pushing for the use of plain English in business dealings or documents. You should not have to call up your lawyer to interpret an agreement when you are the one negotiating and closing deals that will benefit your own company.

Many business agreements fail to progress because of problems with the words used in a contract. In some cases, legal documents filled with legalese can likely be seen as distrustful, especially for those doing business in countries whose first language isn’t English.

In an online business, transparency and honesty are critical for users browsing websites or e-commerce stores. If yours is filled with legal jargon, it’s easy for your online visitors to feel like you’re hiding something with all these big words and terms on your website.

Also, since the majority of online users are not well-versed in legalese like lawyers, then it won’t help to attract new clients or grow your business if the terms and conditionsprivacy policiesdisclaimers, and copyright notices are filled with jargon.

Using too much legalese on your website can discourage potential customers or clients from proceeding to navigate your online store so you need to be really careful with how you use it.

Even if they do proceed and sign up with your service, it’s also possible they may not have clearly understood your legal agreements. A lack of understanding may lead customers to complain about your business, and you could be hauled in court for it.

For instance, your privacy policy may state in legalese that in order for your business to deliver the goods or services, customers who use your site or app must be willing to provide some details about themselves, such as their email address or full name.

Some users sign up without knowing this and then later complain that your website has collected their data without them agreeing to it. They did not realize that it is underscored in your terms and policies because the legal jargon prevented them from carefully understanding how you do your business.

Use Clear and Plain Words for Important Documents

In 2012, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) released a guideline that encouraged businesses, regardless of size, to use clear and plain English for their privacy policy and other legal documents. While European nations covered this guideline, other countries, including the U.S., have also adopted the same ideas.

Now, it’s still possible to put up a binding and well-protected legal notice on your website without putting off your visitors. Use simple sentences in clear and plain language and then italicize, underline, or highlight words that you want to be emphasized.

When writing your website’s legal documents, try to put yourself in the user or customer’s place. Consider what they might likely want to see from your website and what you want them to know about your business.

Writing in clear and plain words is also as challenging as writing in legalese when it comes to legal agreements. It still needs to be done with careful thought so that you can ultimately get your message across with authenticity and without confusing your customers.

Jason Crawford

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Jason is highly knowledgeable in business legal compliance and protection. He works with all types of businesses to ensure their legal needs are met. He’s a strategic thinker and can quickly develop solutions to complex problems.