What is legalese?
Legalese is a pejorative term referring to overly stiff and complicated legal English as its own, separate language. It is not restricted to any specific field within law but rather makes fun of certain aspects common in legal texts.
Examples of legalese
“In witness whereof the parties hereunto have set their hands to these presents as a deed on the day month and year hereinbefore mentioned.” While this sentence seems very complex and significant, its equivalent in plain English is simply the word “Date” under a signature line in a contract.
Another example is contained in subpoenas in the US legal system: “Herein fail not at your peril”. This simply means that the subpoenaed person is required to follow the instructions of the document.
Many specific legal terms are derived from Latin or French which further complicates understanding it for laymen.
Potential disadvantages of using legalese
- Bad reputation
Businesses using legalese can often be seen as trying to sneak disadvantageous conditions for consumers by, similar to the use of fine print in contracts.
- Misunderstood terms of business
If your terms are clearly and concisely formulated it prevents misunderstandings. If a potential client can understand your business’ terms and conditions more easily they are more likely to actually become a client. On the other hand, using legalese can lead to potential complaints and disputes later on and deter potential clients from even entering a business relationship with you.
- Potential legal trouble
Using legalese may not only damage your reputation or discourage potential clients - it may even be illegal. The most common example would be privacy policies on a homepage. Since the EU’s GDPO has come into effect it has to be clearly understandable, what data is being collected on the homepage and how it is being used.