Keep it simple, stupid






We have all encountered the KISS rule in one form or another.  A lawyer trying a case or a person writing legal fiction should always keep it in mind. Keep it simple, stupid.

Because the law has its own specialized vocabulary, one can easily fall into the trap of using its high-falutin’ terminology.  If the writer isn’t careful, he turns a lawsuit into a “petition,” a legal paper into a “special exception,” a request asking an appeals court to set the trial court straight on a wrong ruling a “mandamus.”

All these terms are accurate in certain contexts, but that doesn’t make them clear.  The lay person who reads the words doesn’t have a clue what they mean, and when the reader doesn’t have a clue, he stops reading.

Mark Twin said, “It takes a helluva man to survive a formal education.” That is especially true when it comes to law school.

Which of these has more punch?

1.  When the DA finished questioning the police officer, the defense attorney decided he must test the officer’s credibility.

2.  The defense attorney set out to show the jury that the police officer was a damned liar.

Suppose you are writing about a conference between a lawyer and potential client concerning a divorce. Which of these is more fun to read?

Client: “My wife locked me out of the house.  What can you do to help me?”

Lawyer:  “I can file for a temporary restraining order, request a special setting on temporary orders and  have the Court modify the restraining order into a temporary injunction.  That should give you access to the house under specified conditions.”


Client: “My wife locked me out of the house.  What can you do to help me?”

Lawyer:  “Here’s a phone book.  Look up furnished apartments and find the cheapest one you can stand. In the mean time, stay the hell away from your wife and work two jobs.  You’re going to need the extra cash.”

There may be a place in the story where a technical issue is important. If so, it’s Okay to use a little legalese, but only if you explain the mumbo jumbo in common terms right next to it.

Lawyer: “I think your husband’s arrest was illegal.”

Wife: “What can you do to get him out?”

Lawyer: “I have to file some papers called a writ of Habeas Corpus. It is the quickest way for us to get in front of a judge and let her know what was wrong with the arrest.  If we win, the judge can order the sheriff to release your husband.”

The simplest writing is the clearest. Don’t get lazy and start using specialized jargon.




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