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Plain Language for Lawyers

5th edition




Publication Date




AUD $89.95 gst included

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Michèle Asprey’s Plain Language for Lawyers has established itself over the past 33 years and four editions as a comprehensive, authoritative, practical, entertaining and enormously useful book. It:

  • Explores the reasons why lawyers should be writing in plain language, including the legislation that requires it, the cases that call for it, the poor image of lawyers, and explains what clients (and judges) really want in legal writing.
  • Discusses plain language as the international standard for good legal writing and surveys recent developments in plain language worldwide.
  • Explains the main elements of plain language step-by-step, with supporting legal analysis and case law.
  • Examines the principles of legal interpretation in the light of recent case law.
  • Updates its plain language vocabulary.
  • Covers writing for email, social media, websites and the internet, including the latest on defamation law and the implications of emerging artificial intelligence technology.
  • Surveys document design for both print and the computer screen, including updated research on typography, reading speed and comprehension.
  • Plain Language for Lawyers is an essential resource for lawyers who aspire to communicate well.

    Professor Kimble names Michèle Asprey’s book Plain Language for Lawyers as one of the top publications in the history of plain language.

    In Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please – The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law – Carolina Academic Press, Durham, North Carolina, Professor Kimble lists Michele Asprey’s book as number 7 on his list of the top publications – quite an accolade. It appears alongside David Mellinkoff’s book The Language of the Law (from 1963), Richard Wydick’s book Plain English for Lawyers (from 1979), Rudolph Flesch’s work, and Ernest Gowers’s The Complete Plain Words, among others.

    1. What is this book about?
    2. What is plain language?
    3. Why plain language?
    4. Fundamentals
    5. Structure
    6. Words
    7. Grammatical structures to avoid
    8. Legal affectations and other nasty habits
    9. Overused words and formulas
    10. Little words: big problems
    11. What about the principles of legal interpretation?
    12. A plain language vocabulary
    13. Legal writing in the digital age
    14. Document design basics
    15. Designing for the computer screen
    16. Testing your writing
    17. Any questions?

    Supplement – Plain language around the world

    Reviews of previous editions

    From the very beginning, you can tell that this is a book unlike most others. There are no wordy prefaces or superfluous forewords here, rather Asprey gets right into it by explaining what the general gist of this book is all about. She then considers why writing in plain language is important if not essential, and draws from examples both within and outside the legal profession to further explain her points… What is refreshing about this section of the book is the fact that practical scenarios and examples rather than abstract theories and hypotheses are used to explain the basic principles and techniques of plain language drafting.

    Robert Mbaka and Michael Flynn, Capital Lawyers, (2010) Ethos (ACT Law Society’s journal)

    Asprey outlines the considerable cost savings experienced by companies and governments when they have designed contracts and forms that can be easily and widely understood. … Asprey presents a convincing case for simplicity. She argues that it is not only economically sensible but legally responsible to abandon archaic drafting habits and embrace plain language in drafting.

    Having convinced the reader that plain language is not only an option in drafting, but the only responsible option, Asprey then proceeds to dissect bad drafting habits and propose solutions. She demonstrates good drafting practices, details successful implementations …

    The first part of the book makes a case for the use of plain language in a convincing and easy to read manner. The writer then deals with the fundamentals and structure of drafting. She underlines the importance of knowing your audience when you are writing any document, and writing for the ability, understanding and interest of the reader or audience when preparing a document. …

    The book contains chapters which deal with the technicalities of the written word including the structure of drafting, words generally, grammatical structures to avoid, legal affectations and clarity of word use. It also explains how to set out a document so that its very design assists the reader in understanding its content. The third edition of the book includes new chapters on email and use of the internet.

    This book is very easy to read. The author has interspersed her technical knowledge with humour, common sense and wide and relevant research. Asprey has provided the reader with a wonderful example of plain language at its best. In my view the book should be compulsory reading for anyone involved in the law.

    Judge Richards, (2005) 26 Qld Lawyer

    Some books get better with age – like old wine. Each new edition bring the better out of the author, aims more dirctly at the reader, and hits bull’s eye. This is one of them. …

    This new revision has some great additions, especially chapters on plain language around the world, writing email and for the internet, and designing documents for the computer screen.

    The initial three chapters convince you of the need to use plain language; after all, legalese is certainly undignified. Clear and precise language, organization, design and layout are important. The fundamentals follow – consider your reader, eschew pomposity, plan first, put the most important part of your document first, ignore future tense for your benefit, be flexible. Two wonderful chapters discuss legal affectations and problem words (and, and/or, shall). And do not miss the plain language vocabulary – it meets your needs. …

    A detailed index and links to further research (in footnotes that do not daunt the eye) are other hallmarks.

    Have you bought the title yet?

    Global Law Review, (2004)

    Michèle Asprey takes her readers by the hand and leads them gently through the evidence supporting the need to write in terms that the intended reader can understand. Her tone is persuasive and her points are made in a relaxed way supported by extensive references to research, case law and relevant websites. … There is an extensive plain language vocabulary list. I was particularly intrigued by the discussion linking plain language writing to legal interpretation.

    Plain Language for Lawyers is the book you need on hand when faced with arguments about using “must” in prefernce to “shall”, or the need to avoid “and/or”, and other hoary chestnuts of drafting. These and similar problems are covered in the chapter Little words: big problems. I could have done with this book for Asprey’s wisdom earlier this year. …

    Asprey gives frequent examples of complex writing and then the plainer version, and she always provides evidence to support her point of view. … [her book] is an invaluable resource with which to persuade colleagues to give up bad writing habits.

    The book belongs in the library of anyone wishing to communicate more clearly in writing – not just lawyers!

    Law Institute Journal (Victoria), Vol 77(11), November (2003)

    Here is a most effective guide to all aspects of clear expression.

    Ethos (Law Society of the ACT), December (2003)

    This book is a must-have for anyone whose livelihood depends upon human communication. While directed specifically towards lawyers, the volume’s pertinence extends to a much wider audience, including professors, doctors, corporate executives and students, just to name a few. … Asprey arranges the book into 18 short, accessible chapters, cleverly anticipating readers’ common questions and concerns and ultimately proving that she knows her audience well, making a seemingly “tough sell” with ease, style and finesse.

    Trade Practices Law Journal, Vol 11, December (2003)

    With a sense of humour and considerable understanding of the importance of tradition, Asprey describes what plain language is, why it is important, and what lawyers can do to make their legal writing and drafting clearer… One of the book’s strengths is that every issue is rooted in example.

    She also deals with fears about precision, showing how it is policy, not language, that leads to different legal results from two very similar sets of words. She goes on to show how many “precise” phrases are far from precise. One of Asprey’s gifts is that she not only highlights the problem but also offers some straightforward solutions, as she does with the precision problem.

    T. Costello, of the Nova Scotia Bar and G. Davies, Plain Language Consultant, (1994) 73(3) Canadian Bar Review 431

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