When I was in law school, many of our professors told us that “All law is policy.” They were right. Our laws, guided by government policy, set the standards, procedures, and principles that must be followed. The language in these laws can be complicated and dense.
Lawyers and judges understand and even enjoy the language of the law. We don’t find it difficult or complex.
However, clients and consumers who are seeking information might become lost in a legalese maze.
How can we help them? How can we write content that is both true to the laws on which it is based and understandable to readers who don’t have legal training?
- Helpful Topics are Worth the Read
If your readers want to know the parts of a will, or what a class action lawsuit or prenuptial agreement is, they will read your post carefully to find information. Use easily understood language.
- Eliminate Legalese
Write as if the client was sitting across from you and you are explaining the topic and answering questions. A question and answer format is easy to follow and helpful to readers.
- Write for Your Readers
Your content should be written with specificity. Use scenes and examples that relate to your readers. Using a fact pattern to establish the setting for your explanation makes things easier for consumers and clients.
- Use Stories to Explain Complex Subjects
A contract is based on the law and a set of facts. For example, the case of Sherwood v. Walker (66 Mich 568, 1887) considered the law of mutual mistake in contracts. When you know the facts, it is easy to understand the problem and the court’s solution. Sherwood agreed to buy the cow, Rose 2d of Aberlone, for beef from Walker. The price was set at five-and-a-half cents a pound, about $80. Later they discovered Rose was expecting a calf making her worth about $1000. Walker wanted his cow back. Sherwood sued to enforce the contract and lost.
The court wrote that “Because a mutual mistake affecting the substance of the transaction had been made, Hiram Walker had a right to rescind the contract, and keep the cow.” Knowing the facts helps the reader understand the court’s decision.
- Consider a Podcast
For a change of pace, and to add interest to your blog or website, post a podcast. Interview an interesting and informed individual to speak on a interesting subject. Your audience will appreciate the change of presentation and hearing from a new expert.
Writing complex content is challenging. Start by putting yourself in your reader’s shoes. Connect your topic to the real world and your audience will stick to the end of the story.
After years practicing law, Roberta Gubbins served as editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides legal content writing for lawyers. She is editor of The Mentor, the SBM Master Lawyers newsletter. Writing as Alexandra Hawthorne, she published a cozy mystery, Murder One in Midvale Corners.
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