When creating legal policies for your business, avoid legalese, which is a form of writing that makes your policies unnecessarily complicated.
If users have trouble understanding your policies because there’s too much legalese, it could have consequences for your business.
This article will go over the meaning of legalese, reasons to avoid legalese, and best writing practices for your legal policies.
1. Legalese Definition
Legalese is a technical form of writing often used by lawyers and members of the legal community to discuss legal definitions, terms, laws, and contracts.
Legalese is also known as:
- legal jargon
- legal speak
- legal English
Legalese is used by businesses with the hope that it will make their policies more legally sound. However, because not many users are familiar with legalese, too much of it in your legal policies will likely harm your business instead.
2. Legalese Examples
The following sentences are examples of legalese:
In witness whereof the parties hereunto have set their hands to these presents as a deed on the day month and year hereinbefore mentioned.
Translated from legalese to plain English, this sentence simply refers to the “Date” line which often follows a signature.
Here’s another legalese example found in a sample limitation of liabilities clause:
IN NO EVENT SHALL COMPANY OR ITS DIRECTORS, EMPLOYEES, OR AGENTS BE LIABLE TO YOU OR ANY THIRD PARTY FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, EXEMPLARY, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES, INCLUDING LOST PROFIT, LOST REVENUE, LOSS OF DATA OR OTHER DAMAGES ARISING FROM YOUR USE OF THE WEBSITE OR COMPANY SERVICES, EVEN IF COMPANY HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
In simple terms, this clause states that the company and its employees will not be liable for any indirect or direct damages arising from using the site or company services, including financial losses or losses of data.
The above examples show that it’s possible to replace the legalese in your policies with plain language.
3. Why Is Legalese Bad?
Legalese is bad because it could confuse your users, or hide important messages in difficult-to-read language.
Legalese is often associated with the infamous “fine print,” where important information is buried in complicated, dense sentences.
Furthermore, legalese makes users feel alienated, as most people outside of the legal professional aren’t well-versed in legal jargon.
4. Why Using Legalese Could Hurt Your Business
Establishing trust and transparency with users is crucial to your business, and part of that comes from users understanding and respecting your legal policies.
Legalese makes your policies more difficult to understand, which could end up putting your business at a disadvantage with customers, and make them less legally effective.
Here are three major reasons why you should avoid legalese when crafting your legal and business policies.
1. Legalese Negatively Affects Customer Relationships
If customers see legalese in your business policies, they may feel confused, offended, or just unwilling to have a relationship with your company. All of these feelings make customers less inclined to make a purchase or sign up for a membership.
On the other hand, clear and plain language allows customers without legal know-how to feel at ease with your business, rather than feeling taken advantage of or manipulated.
Use plain language instead of legalese to make users happy and attract more customers.
2. Users May Not Understand or Follow Your Terms
Your policies are for your protection too. For example, terms and conditions help protect your website’s rights and establish how users can interact with your properties. If your terms and conditions are full of legalese, your users won’t understand them and won’t be able to follow your rules.
3. Legalese Could Have Legal Consequences
There are laws around the world that explicitly prohibit the use of legalese in legal policies.
Similarly, Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) requires organizations to be open about their data handling practices to the public, which means privacy policies need to be clear and legalese-free.
Not following these regulations can lead to reputational damage as well as legal consequences.
5. Replace Legalese With Plain Language
You can still craft legally sound policies without using legalese. Here are some tips to follow when writing your policies.
1. Be clear
First and foremost, write your policies using clear and plain language. Avoid long, complicated sentences and replace legal terms with simpler words whenever possible.
Break down complex business or legal processes into step-by-step lists, and define any uncommon terms.
2. Emphasize key information
Draw users’ attention to clauses that may be contentious or a source of legal dispute, such as a no warranty statement or limitation of liabilities clause. You can highlight important policy sections or disclaimers by:
3. Be transparent
Be as transparent as possible in your legal policies by being comprehensive and not hiding any important information from users.
These tips don’t detract from the fact that legal policies need to be legally binding and comprehensive. However, ensuring that customers fully understand the policies on your site benefits your business greatly.