​On Writing Well

November 28th, 2016 By Catherine Hanna

“The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. ”

Will Rogers

At Hanna & Plaut, our lawyers love to write and we have discovered a wealth of material available on the Internet. Bryan Garner is a great resource. Two of Garner’s tips for better legal writing are to “summarize your conclusions up front” and to “make your summary understandable to outsiders.” Bryan Garner, 10 Tips for Better Legal Writing, ABA Journal, October 2014 (http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/10_tips_for_better_legal_writing)

At Hanna & Plaut, we value plain language in motions and briefs and when we draft pleadings, our aim is to plainly tell the court what we want it to do and why, without the “heretofores” and “whereases” you see in much legal writing.

We also review correspondence written by insurance professionals who sometimes fall victim to the same bad habits as attorneys. Unfortunately, these professionals may believe that they have to include “legalese” in communications like coverage position letters and reservations of rights for those documents to be effective. We disagree. An effective reservation rights letter, for example, identifies the policy, informs the insured that the carrier will provide a defense under a reservation of rights, and points out specific policy provisions that may result in noncoverage. J.E.M. v. Fid. & Cas. Co. of New York, 928 S.W.2d 668, 674 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1996, no writ). When communicating your position to an insured, particularly an unsophisticated insured, it is important to convey your reasoning in a straightforward and understandable manner. Businesses of all types tend to pepper their legal documents with unnecessary jargon. Of course, we potentially hurt our own practice when we advise our clients to draft documents more plainly. “Legal jargon often creates ambiguity, and ambiguity invites litigation.” See Chadwick C. Busk and Michael Braem, Curiouser and Curiouser Excuses for Legal Jargon, Mighigan Bar Journal, October 2016 (http://www.michbar.org/file/barjournal/article/documents/pdf4article2967.pdf).

Still, we believe that legal disputes are most easily resolved when the intent of the parties is not buried in a blizzard of legalistic buzzwords so we won’t be insulted if you tell us that it does not appear that our work product was “drawn up by a lawyer.”