Practical advice for legal-writing teachers
In my first-year legal-writing course, I don’t tell my students to write their memos and briefs in plain English for these reasons:
- I don’t have time to cover the principles of plain English. (My principles are here. Another list is here.) I’m too busy teaching analysis, organization, use of authority, legal research, conventions of legal writing, and citation.
- Some legal employers might react negatively to memos or briefs written in plain English because plain English emphasizes an informal, colloquial writing style.
- Memos and briefs aren’t intended for nonlawyers and don’t need to be written in plain English.
Some teachers of first-year legal-writing courses probably do tell their students to write in plain English. But those teachers probably don’t mean “true” plain English as I define it: English that can be read and understood by nonlawyers.
What legal-writing teachers probably mean by “write in plain English” is “avoid a hyper-formal writing style and the excesses of traditional legalese.” That’s good advice.