This past week I reviewed a pair of trusts for a couple and had to shake my head in disgust. All of the horrible things my clients say about the legalese in their documents was readily apparent in these trusts created by a law firm in New York City. Typically I have to defend the legal language in documents because while legalese is hard for the non-attorney to sort through and it sounds convoluted, it is actually very precise and eliminates loopholes.

Not here. This sounded like it was written by Yoda on meth. Sections referred back to other sections so frequently that it was a legal jigsaw puzzle to be put together just to read a paragraph or two in context. In addition, instead of simply spelling out things in full, it kept referencing sections of the U.S. Tax Code so vaguely that only tax experts would have the slightest idea what was going on. In other words, only people with 20 years experience in dealing with the tax code every day would have even the slightest clue what the document meant.

Here is what legalese in a well-drafted legal document should actually do:

Finally, if you can read the sentence while doing an impersonation of Jedi Master Yoda from Star Wars and it sounds like something he would say, then take the sentence back to the drawing board.

And so for the writers and attorneys out there who think big words and convoluted sentence structure will make you sound smarter, keep this in mind:

“If understand your writing people cannot, then your ideas in the first place not worth reading they were.”

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