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Published On: Mon, Sep 28th, 2015

Legal Papers: Principles of Document Preparation

Most organizations and businesses need to know how to prepare legal documents. Once they’re completed, it’s cost-effective to have a lawyer give them a quick once-over rather than paying them to create the document from scratch. So, here are a few tips to get your documents done the right way.

Start With A Template

Unless you happen to be a lawyer yourself, you should start with a template. According to Standard Legal, most people can get themselves most (or all) the way through the legal document creation process without a lawyer. If you do need a lawyer to look over a draft, it’s much cheaper to have him or her do it at the end and make edits where necessary as opposed to paying for the entire legal document creation from scratch.

Many lawyers charge more than $200 per hour and, at that rate, legal services become unaffordable if you need a long-form contract or legal document.

For example, let’s say you’re a landlord who is just getting started. You’ve already paid thousands of dollars in closing costs, fees, and advertising. You don’t have much money left to spend on a rental agreement. What you need is a simple contract that lets you secure renters and collect payments, along with provisions for eviction in the event that the tenant doesn’t pay.

A form creation tool will help you by giving you “fill-in-the-blank” standard legal contract templates to choose from, and then let you customize the contract for your own personal needs.

Use A Clear and Active Voice

Write legal documents with an active voice. Active voice is considered more direct and succinct, which is important in legal matters. Most people write in the passive voice, which reverses the natural order of the English language.

Language that’s passive often uses some variant of the verb “to be” with the past participle of a main verb. For example, “The book [receiver] was written [verb] by the writer [actor],” is an example of passive voice.

You can see it’s less obvious who is doing what and to what or whom.

This is an example of the active voice: “The writer [actor] wrote [verb] the book [receiver].”

Do you see how much more straightforward that sentence “feels?” It’s more direct and it’s unequivocal who is doing what.

When you write legal documents, you want to keep that in mind and always use straightforward and active language. It’s more clear and, as a consequence, there will be less confusion or ambiguity.

Use “Must” Instead Of “Shall”

When you use “must” in a legal sense, you are making or outlining a requirement. When you use “shall,” you are merely being suggestive. If you want to compel another party to do something, always use “must.”

“Must” is also imperative when you need to convey “black and white” details and ideas.

Other, similar, words also change the meaning of your legal document. For example:

  • Will: predicts a future action
  • Must not: indicates a prohibition
  • Should: implies or infers obligation, but not absolute necessity
  • May: indicates a discretion to act
hand writing signing a document photo/ Michael Jarmoluk via pixabay.com

hand writing signing a document photo/ Michael Jarmoluk via pixabay.com

Don’t Use Exceptions Unless You Really Mean It

Never use ambiguity, verbosity, or exceptions unless you really mean to include them. Most of the time, it’s better to leave this stuff out. When you have to include exceptions, describe the rule directly instead of stating the rule and then the exceptions.

For example:

Don’t say: “All persons except females and those under age 18…”

Say: “Every male under 18 years of age…”

Do you see how direct the second phrasing is? It also directly defines the exception rather than infers or references it.

Don’t Use Slang And Omit Unnecessary Verbiage

Never use slang in a legal document. It may not be understood by the other party and it will not be clear in a court of law what is meant.

Use Concrete Words And Phrases

Use concrete language as opposed to vague language or abstractions. For example, say, “automobiles” instead of “vehicles.” Better yet, say “cars” when you mean cars instead of “automobiles.” If you mean a specific car, state it explicitly and exclude words like “vehicle,” “automobile,” and “car.”

Use “pistol” instead of “firearm.” Use “plane” instead of “aircraft.”

Don’t Use Words That Antagonize Another Party

The goal of a legal contract is to communicate a business transaction, or terms of some kind of trade, Because of this, you want to use words that people react favorably to, instead of words that antagonize other parties.

In most legal documents, it’s best to stick to the premise that the other party is a partner in a transaction, even when there is no explicit transaction happening. When you view other parties to a contract as partners rather than antagonistically, the language will seem friendlier, and will communicate the purpose of the document more clearly.

Guest Author :

Jon Steele has worked in legal services for many years and likes to share his insights with an online audience. His observations can be found on a number of business and legal related websites.

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

Displaying 1 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Aaron Scott says:

    Good stuff, sir! Whenever I am about to be writing verbiage for legal docum….

    Er, When I’m writing legal documents I find that it’s helpful to whittle – Crap.

    I reduce when writing legal docs…

    Be succinct.

    🙂

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