Legal language: it could be easier

Incomprehensible employment contracts and complicated general terms and conditions. Why are legal contracts and documents always full of jargon and difficult terms? Companies deter employees with it and the vast majority of the Netherlands does not know what this means. With doubts and a red hot customer service phone as a result. In short, difficult contracts take a lot of time and effort. Time for change: a plea for understandable contracts and conditions for everyone.

You come across legal contracts and documents in more places than you might think. For example, if you get a new job, buy a new house or purchase more expensive products. And how about the privacy statement of your favorite social media platform or the general terms and conditions of a webshop?

Although there are 2 million ‘excellent readers’ in the Netherlands, 1.3 million Dutch people between the ages of 16 and 65 struggle with low literacy. This means that they have difficulty reading and writing, understanding written information and filling in forms. Extra difficult if you also have a complex employment contract in front of you.

Gap: lawyers versus non-lawyers

This is not only a problem among the illiterate: almost half of consumers sometimes sign a contract without understanding exactly what it actually says. As it turns out research van THE and survey agency Ipsos. In fact, only one third of those surveyed fully understand legal language.

That’s because legal contracts and documents are often written on C2 level. That is the most complex language level we know. Who do you reach with that language? Actually only lawyers and some university graduates. The vast majority of the Netherlands struggles with all those technical terms, difficult concepts and complicated sentence structures. Do you understand all the clauses in your employment contract? And do you know exactly what you said ‘yes’ to when you accepted your iPhone’s terms and conditions?

Time for change

Entrepreneurs and companies themselves sometimes do not know exactly what they agree with their employees, cooperation partners or customers. Quite inconvenient, if you do not know exactly which rules apply and what to do if something goes wrong. In short: there is an increasing need for easier contracts.

Especially because many companies are increasingly conscious of propagating their own brand. A strong brand impresses your customers much more and makes them remember you. It’s in everything: your business card, logo and tone-of-voice, for example. And the more personal the latter is, the more recognizable you are to your customers.

Also opt for clear language in contracts

Why not also have your legal documents match that image? The more everything is aligned, the stronger your brand. Make sure that your clear tone is also reflected in your employment contracts or general terms and conditions. Impossible? Oh, no. An example. You will find this sentence in many general terms and conditions:

If and insofar as on the grounds of reasonableness and fairness or the unreasonably onerous nature any provision of these general terms and conditions cannot be invoked, the relevant provision will in any case have a corresponding meaning as far as possible in terms of content and purport, so that it can be invoked.

What if you write it like that?

Can’t you rely on one of our general terms and conditions? Then we will provide a suitable replacement condition that you can invoke.

The two sentences mean exactly the same, but the second one is a lot shorter, more readable and easier to understand. Applause for simple language!

Do it yourself? Simplify your contracts with these tips

With this step-by-step plan you ensure that your legal documents become a lot more accessible:

1. Delete difficult words

Many copywriters know that difficult words are only there to be interesting. There are often much more accessible and easy alternatives. Can’t figure it out? Then helps you on your way.

2. Explain legal terms

Sometimes you come across a legal term for which there is no synonym. Or where an easier alternative leaves more room for legal interpretation. You don’t want that! Then at least make sure you explain the term in ‘normal language’.

3. Dusty? Not necessary!

Nevertheless, consequently, with regard to: for all these kinds of official words there is a smoother alternative. Reads a lot better!

4. Write succinctly and actively

Legal language is full of passive sentence constructions. Not to mention lengthy subclauses and subclauses. Keep it nice and clear: delete all unnecessary auxiliary verbs and write actively where possible!

Legally binding?

If it can be done so easily, why does the legal world still cling to jargon and archaic language? This is due to habituation, the misconception that difficult language gives a certain status, and that some terms do not have synonyms. A shame, of course, because even if a concept does not have a synonym, you can still explain it in understandable language.

We can hear you thinking: ‘But if we use simple language, are contracts still legally valid?’ Of course it is. The main thing is that we remove technical terms and unnecessarily long sentence constructions from legal contracts and conditions. The content remains the same, language-technically it becomes easier. At least that way everyone knows what they’re signing up for.

Source: Frankwatching by

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