Peaceful Divorce

The Plain Language movement is taking place all over the globe, including right here in Georgia. Municipalities, fed up with complaints from confused constituents, are looking for a way to use as few, unambiguous words as possible to get an idea across. With this, a lot of time can indeed be saved. Take this example of legalese being translated into common sense:

Legalese and Jargon Language: Citigroup today announced a series of repositioning actions that will further reduce expenses and improve efficiency across the company while maintaining Citi's unique capabilities to serve clients, especially in the emerging markets. These actions will result in increased business efficiency, streamlined operations and an optimized consumer footprint across geographies.

Translated into plain language: Citigroup announced layoffs today. This will save them money.

As a mediator, I get a kick out of the sheer number of unnecessary words in the first paragraph. None of them were needed to get the point across. The same can be said of several divorce documents that have been written.

As a remedy, plain language can be applied to many contexts, like:

  • Directions to and from the court or mediator’s office
  • Easy-to-understand intake documents
  • Commonsense summaries of court documents

We are much more likely to be successful in resolving conflicts if we all speak the same language. In fact, in a 2011 article called The Plain Language Movement in ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), there is an insightful quote by Jane M. Siegel, a professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School:

“There is no freedom or justice when the language of law and government is incomprehensible to a country's citizens."

Mediators can read contracts or legal documents and reframe, summarize or translate back to the parties. Mediators should also be conscious of their own language, ensuring he or she is not speaking legalese.

I recently had two clients who were together in the same room. One of them was asked to say how he felt, and then the other client was to supposed to repeat what she had heard, but she couldn’t. That’s why one of the things I advocate for is putting my clients’ intent into agreements. This ensures the parties are describing their stories in a way that the other parties can hear and ultimately understand.

Without crucial translation, conflict can remain. It prevents parties from hearing the same thing.

My grandfather would often point to a sign that would say “No swimming allowed!” My grandmother would agree, and say “No, swimming allowed!”

Something as small as a comma carries a lot of significance, especially to Grandma. That’s why it is important to think not only about what you are going to say, but how you are going to say it. Speaking and writing in clear and concise English will not only get your point across accurately and quickly, you may end up saving money on legal fees.

Do you already speak Plain English without knowing it? To learn more about plain language, visit The Plain Language Action Information Network.

Robert D. Bordett CFP, CDFA
Collaborative Practice
and Mediation Services

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