Who are the best writers? If we held a vote, English teachers might win, or authors of popular novels. But one group that would get no votes at all is lawyers. Oh, they likely know how to write; they learned it early in school. But some time during Law School, the skill of writing clear, common sense statements was sucked right out of ‘em.
Here are two recent examples. Neal Gorsuch, the new conservative Supreme Court Justice, voted with his liberal colleagues to overturn a ruling because the law it was based on was “vague.” In other words, the law was written so poorly by a legislative body that a judge had to figure out what it meant. Gorsuch says that ain’t right; it’s up to Congress or a state Legislature to write down exactly what it means. Then a judge can do his or her job of deciding whether the accused is innocent or guilty based on that law as written.
We all watched Jeff Zuckerberg, the whiz kid who founded Facebook, being interviewed (or interrogated) by a bunch of old Senators who still send out messages by telegram. They couldn’t figure out how a service provided free to millions of people could earn any money, let alone make Zuckerberg a billionaire. Well, the secret to his wealth is included in the legal document every Facebook user signs. But nobody reads it because it’s hundreds of pages. One prominent Senator admitted, “I’m a lawyer and I don’t understand it.”
The solution to these problems is for all legal documents to be written by non-lawyers. Someone who is blunt, straight-forward and clear. Someone like, say, Barbara Bush. Yes, we already miss her example of common sense clarity presented with a touch of humor.
Historic quotes by Will Rogers:
“The minute you read something and you can’t understand it you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. Then if you give it to another lawyer to read and he don’t know just what it means, why then you can be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer. If it’s in a few words and is plain and understandable only one way, it was written by a non-lawyer.
Every time a lawyer writes something, he is not writing for posterity, he is writing so that endless others of his craft can make a living out of trying to figure out what he said, course perhaps he hadn’t really said anything, that’s what makes it hard to explain.” WA #657, July 28, 1935