Towards clear legal writing: Shining the light on legalese

Anne-Marie Chisnall | December 21, 2017

Nothing beats the excitement of opening a parcel that contains a book fresh off the press. And even more exciting is the feeling you get when that parcel contains a new publication by the inimitable Professor Joseph Kimble.

Joe’s latest book, Seeing Through Legalese, is a treasure trove of essays on his specialist topic — how to banish legalese and make clear legal writing the norm. The book is packed with project case studies and before-and-after examples, which will come as no surprise to fans of his previous work.

Image, book cover, Seeing Through Legalese by Joseph Kimble

Seeing Through Legalese: More Essays on Plain Language by Joseph Kimble, Professor Emeritus at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

The book contains guidance and commentary on how to achieve clarity in legal writing. It also explains the philosophy behind plain language and gives insights into Joe’s amazing career — for example, his legendary work on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Arm yourself with evidence of the benefits of clarity

Joe’s book gives you a bank of excellent examples to draw on, including annotated rewrites and case studies. The description of the process and method for redrafting the Federal Rules is invaluable for anyone on the brink of a large simplification project. You’ll also find lots of compelling arguments to counter typical critiques of plain language.

Image, Quote from 'Answering the Critics of Plain Language' by Professor Joseph Kimble.

Quote from ‘Answering the Critics of Plain Language’ by Professor Joseph Kimble. Image from 2017 Quotes & Sayings

For those interested in the craft of legal drafting, other highlights include:

…and have some fun while you’re at it

This book is no dry dissertation — it’s an enjoyable read. Joe includes a few speeches he’s given over the years. These speeches are packed with insights into his drive to elevate the quality of legal practice ‘…not just because poor writing wastes everyone’s time and money but also because of the public’s dim view of legalese […] it diminishes respect for our profession’ (Seeing Through Legalese, p245).

You’ll even find an antidote to descriptions of best practice in Joe’s 12 extra-special tips for marking yourself as a traditional legal writer (‘How to Dominate Your Reader — and Make Stewie Griffin Proud’). This chapter alone provides all the justification you need to persuade resistant clients or colleagues that clear writing is the smartest writing.

…so we can all see through legalese to the light of clarity

Above all, Joe provides us with sound reasoning, case studies, and evidence to make the case for plain legal language and for putting the reader first. As Joe says in his preface:

No revolution; just a gradual cutting down and cleaning up of one verbose pile after another, until readers can see more easily through the legalese — to the light of clarity.

Make sure ‘Seeing through Legalese’ is in your toolkit

Meet the author

Join Clarity International to support plain legal writing around the world

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.