作者：James Russell and Thomas Harrison 金杜律师事务所 King & Wood Mallesons
“Plain English” refers to an English language communication tool which emphasizes clarity, brevity and the avoidance of unnecessary technical language. The objective is to write in a way that is easily understood by the target audience using only words that are necessary to convey the message. It is not baby talk, nor is it “dumbing down” of the English language.
As lawyers, communication is at the core of our skills, and all communication should be clear and concise. Antiquated and complicated “legalese” achieves neither of these goals. A sentence that is five or more lines long is hard to read, and legal writing is no exception. It is particularly important for legal communication to be clear and concise because, as lawyers, we need to make sure documents are interpreted in the right way. Most of the time, complicated sentences could be shortened to just one. (see figure 1)
In China, several antiquated English terms are commonly used which Western clients may not be familiar with. We’ve seen the word “promulgate” used in several advices: this word is not used in modern English. Remember, your audience may be international and you may not be writing to another lawyer. When referring to Statutes and cases, consider whether it is necessary for your audience to know the full name, date and clause/pinpoint reference in the context of your communication. If the client doesn’t need it, don’t include it, or at most put it in a footnote.
In letters and emails, it is unnecessary to use multiple words which mean the same thing. Clients appreciate clear and concise emails to save them time. (see figure 2)
Another important element of efficient communication is structure – think about who you are corresponding with, what they have asked, and what you need to tell them. It can help to list the main issues as headings and then to put them in a logical order – consider putting the most important issue first, or whether a chronological order would make more sense. Headings and bullet points help to deliver the message with maximum clarity.
A message is more easily conveyed using shorter sentences and paragraphs, and fewer and simpler words. There is no need to spend time and effort using old language to make the communication appear more intelligent. It is better to use language that is easily understood and which can only convey one meaning.
Words to avoid include “shall” (use “must” or “may” instead), archaic words such as “wheresoever”, “hereby”, “hereinbefore mentioned”, and unnecessary phrases such as “it is important to note that”, “we should point out that”, “we thought we should let you know that”, etc. Long-winded words or complicated phrases such as “utilise vs use”, “expeditiously vs quickly”, “in the event that vs if”, “by means of vs by”, “in relation to vs for, about or of”, etc. Everything a client pays you to write is with an underlying assumption that it is important, therefore there is no need to add “it’s important to note” in your writing. If the message isn’t important, you wouldn’t be communicating it.
“Shall（应；必须）”这个词应避免使用（可用“must”或“may”替代），老掉牙的词比如“wheresoever（无论在哪里）”、“hereby（特此；兹）”、“hereinbefore mentioned（上文提及的）”以及无任何意义的表达比如“it is important to note that（值得特别注意的是……）”、“we should point out that（我们需指出的是……）”、“我们认为有必要让贵方获悉……”等等，都应尽量避免使用。此外，冗赘啰嗦的词汇不妨用小词取代，比如用“use”不用“utilise”（使用），用“quickly”不用“expeditiously”（快），用“if”不用“in the event that”（如果），用“by”不用“by means of”（通过），用“for/about/of”不用“in relation to”（关于）等等。客户付钱请你写东西的“潜台词”就是“只挑最重要的写”，所以“值得特别注意的是……”这类表达有点画蛇添足。退一步讲，如果信息本身不重要，那就提都不必提。
Last but not least, be active and use verbs to describe actions, for example: applying vs. not making an application, reviewing vs. not undertaking a review, “The plaintiff’s lawyer sent the letter” vs. “The letter was sent by the plaintiff’s lawyer”. Use possessives, for example: “The company’s directors must approve its constitution”, not “The constitution of the Company shall be approved by the directors of the Company”. Draft in the present tense where possible and be consistent.
最后，注意要多使用动词而非动词的名词化，比如用“applying”不用“making an application”（申请），用“reviewing”不用“undertaking a review”（审查）。多用主动态、少用被动态，比如用“The plaintiff’s lawyer sent the letter”不用“The letter was sent by the plaintiff’s lawyer”（原告律师送达了该信）。多使用所有格，比如用“The company’s directors must approve its constitution”不用“The constitution of the Company shall be approved by the directors of the Company”（公司董事定将通过该公司章程）。此外，尽可能多使用现在时，并保持时态前后一致。
注：本文根据James Russell和Thomas Harrison所内培训整理而成/This article was written as a text version of a King & Wood Mallesons internal training session presented by James Russell and Thomas Harrison.