3-minute read, 10-minute exercise
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Legal documents can often be complex documents with intricate concepts and elaborate language. We went to university to learn how to interpret and apply them, and it took many years of experience to learn how to draft them. Fortunately, there are books and training courses available for anyone who needs to learn how to work with complex legal documents.
Why do we draft legal documents that are so complex?
That’s the way it has always been. Back in the day of the ivory tower, lawyers drafted legal documents with complexity as a way to preserve the intractability of the laws and court precedents of the time. One would never consider, let alone appear, to disrespect the highest legal experts of the land by choosing to use language that disagreed with the accepted norm.
We have continued to draft legal documents this way over time. It is comfortable. It means that as long as you draft fairly similarly to the way it has largely been accepted in the past (which is probably also the way you were taught), you fit within a safe pattern that reduces your stress and risk. It is difficult for someone to argue that your document doesn’t protect legal risks if similar clauses have been acceptable for the 30 years.
It is safer. If something has worked in the past, it is much safer to reuse it again and add any changes that are necessary for the current situation. It is dangerous to take clauses away, especially if we don’t understand why they were there in the first place. So, we stay with what is safe, avoid what is dangerous. Drafting this way results in documents that grow more complex over time.
Some of us can charge more. For those of us who still work with time-based billing, the system is designed to reward us for the time we spend on drafting a document. It doesn’t reward us for being efficient and drafting with less complexity. More words on the page take longer to produce. More words are also a visual reference to the amount of work we put in, which helps to justify our invoices.
How to Draft with Simplicity
Drafting with simplicity is an art and involves more skill than you may realise. It’s incredibly important as too much or irrelevant information in a legal document can be overwhelming for the reader and mean that the legal document is not as useful as it is intended to be.
First, you need to step outside of your comfort zone and be confident that you can add simplicity to your document without reducing its value. If anything, the value of your document will increase as it will become more efficient and effective for the parties who need to use it. You need to believe that you can. Otherwise, you’ll stress and worry over your decision to draft with simplicity and will doubt yourself.
Second, you need to read through your document with a critical eye. Look beyond the words. Which concepts and processes do you need to include and which don’t you need to include? Get rid of any that don’t need to be there. If you don’t feel confident enough to delete them until you read through the document without them, just move them to another document. It’s also a good idea to update any concepts or processes to make sure they are current and appropriate for 2019.
Third, go through the information that is left. Try redrafting each of the concepts and processes until they are clear and straightforward. You may need to work through this step several times and over a few different drafting sessions until you are happy.
Finally, read your document again and make any minor changes you need to be happy with it. Remember, you’ve only removed concepts and process that don’t need to be there and redrafting what does. It makes such a great difference!
Try It Now
Choose one of the precedent documents that you often use and have done so for a long time. Now start to go through each of the steps above.
It will take some practice to become more conscious of drafting with simplicity. But going through these steps helps you to easily identify when you do need to add some simplicity to your document.
In the meantime, we have a range of automated legal documents that can be highly customised and that are available for you to use in your practice now. Join the Support Legal community to access these documents, learn from our resources and collaborate, connect, explore and share with other innovative lawyers in our community group.