Plain Language Advocacy and the Michigan State Bar

This sounds unusual.  The state bar of Michigan not only has a plain language committee, but a regular column in their bar journal on the subject.  Here is a list of the most recent of those columns.

Ambiguous Drafting and the 12-Pound Cat
The Mismatch
Are You a Hyphen-Happy Lawyer?
Meet Scribes—A Society That Promotes Legal-Writing Excellence
The Politics and Power of Plain Language
Please Vote on Two Versions of Our Lawyer’s Oath
The Best Test of a New Lawyer’s Writing
The Texas Pattern Jury Charges—A Plain-Language Project: The Writing Consultant’s View

The last one shows side by side comparisons such as this:

Original:

If you do not obey the instructions I am about to give you, it may become necessary for another jury to re-try this case with all of the attendant waste of your time here and the expense to the litigants and the taxpayers of this county for another trial.

Modified:

If you do not follow these instructions, I may have to order a new trial and start this process over again. That would be a waste of time and money, so please listen carefully to these instructions.

The article also describes how the new version of jury instructions was tested.  They actually did mock trials with both sets, and then had the “jurors” fill in questionaires:

On the general, subjective questions, the revised instructions scored well, especially given that the original was already moder- ately clear and plain. The questionnaires asked 8 questions related to general comprehension for 3 separate sections of the instructions, for a total of 24 questions. The revised instructions scored better than the original on 22 of the 24 questions. Courtroom Sciences [who conducted the study] told us that only 6 of those higher scores were statistically significant. But it is significant that the revision scored better 22 out of 24 times.

Lots of food for thought.

By the way, one group that has done good work with court and legal aid programs, including in languages other than English, on plain language is Transcend.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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2 Responses to Plain Language Advocacy and the Michigan State Bar

  1. Pingback: Speak Justly: Mediators and the Plain Language Movement « Just Court ADR

  2. The whole world will be celebrating International Plain Language Day on October 13. Join in: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=121937134570969

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