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$10 million dispute for want of a comma

Opinions differ on the value of adding a comma to remove ambiguity in sentences such as this: “I would like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope”. The Maine Legislative Drafting Manual advised against the comma. But one law that followed the advice remained...

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The jargon of bell ringing

As I’ve been learning to ring church bells, I’ve also been learning the jargon. As my beginners’ guide warns me, “Not only do [ringers] use some special words, but they also use ordinary words with special meanings, and they sometimes use several different words for...

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What makes a good engagement letter?

One of my projects in 2016 was to help rewrite a suite of engagement letters, to bring up front what the client most wanted to know and to make sure the tone was professional and helpful, not defensive or alienating. Research produced for a group of professional...

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UK legal documents need to be clearer for EU court

In 2016 the European Court of Justice complained that questions put to it by UK courts were too long and complex. In England, a new practice direction has addressed the problem. It now says “The reference should identify as clearly and succinctly as possible the...

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How to write contracts

A poorly-drafted contract gave rise to arguments that shouldn’t have been available. Its defects included: An incoherent scheme of overlapping triggers for undoing the sale of development land, if planning and highways conditions were not met. A clause beginning...

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US Department of Justice scores lowest for Plain Writing

The Center for Plain Language has published its latest annual review of compliance with the Plain Writing Act of 2010 in the USA. This year, they asked each federal agency to submit two of their most heavily-used forms and instructions for completing them. In the few...

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17 pages of Instagram terms reduced to one

The Children’s Commissioner has called for a law to ensure that children can understand the terms of service they accept. Because Instagram is so widely used by under-18s, the Commissioner got Jenny Afia of Schillings to rewrite Instagram’s 17 pages of online terms...

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£528 cost of claiming “further or other relief”

When starting a court claim, a claimant must identify how much it claims or what it wants the court to do. In some Engish litigation it is traditional to add a claim for “further or other relief”, which may cover something the claimant doesn’t yet know it wants....

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Lawyers waste money rewriting merger agreements

Two Harvard professors have analysed 12,000 contracts to merge public companies in the USA from 1994 to 2014. Using software similar to that used to detect plagiarism, they compared each one against all the others, looking for similarities in the text. Predictably,...

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Emojis in a Family Court judgment

A judgment of Mr Justice Peter Jackson was widely reported for its plain language and for using emojis. The judgment was very readable, in short paragraphs, short sentences (average 16 words) everyday languae and the active voice – similar to Lord Denning’s style. The...

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