Monday, August 14, 2006

Using Plain English Letters and Pleadings

I am always surprised to read the arcane language used by attorneys in everything from demand letter to pleadings to client letters.

Is it time to revisit your forms? A few items stricken forever from letters and pleadings in my office:

Client updates: I typically start a letter to the client with a simple sentence: "I hope this letter finds you and your family doing well." From a lawyer perspective, I cannot tell you how many times a client will call and mention how nice that simple sentence was.

What I do not use: I cringe when I see a letter to a client that closes with "If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned at your earliest convenience." Are trial lawyers paid by the word? Ours close with, "Please call me if you have any questions."

Witnesses at depositions, hearings or trials: I picked up a way to start the questioning from a great trial lawyer, Lefferts Mabie. He died several years ago. His simple question to a witness was: "Please tell us who you are and where you live." Not the typical, "Please state your name for the record." One judge before whom I appear frequently now uses it as well.

Pleadings: In Georgia I was mortified to read this when I first relocated: "COMES NOW the Plaintiff, hereinafter referred to as "XXX" and for his Complaint to this Court brings this action against "XXX" and prays ... ." It's a little bit shorter now: "Plaintiff "XXX" sues Defendant "XXX" and alleges.. ." I have yet to see a Motion to Dismiss when I use that language.

Lawyers need to "get off the high horse" as my grandfather used to say and speak plain english. Are your forms or letters too formal?