Thursday, 2 February 2012

More irritating writing habits ("Irritating Things")

A long-standing friend dropped me a line yesterday, having read my posting, to reminisce about teaching Wills - something that I'd probably want to forget, had I ever done it: I certainly want to forget about teaching conveyancing, as the students did immediately -  and reinforcing numerals with the numbers spelt out in full. That way round, definitely.
[The] primary reason was to add certainty to the will which was only likely to be read after someone died and avoid "He definitely said he was going to leave me £100,000 - £10,000 cannot be right!" and [the] secondary reason was to draw attention to numbers when someone (usually emotionally) was checking through a will prior to signing. I kept the habit in commercial life because when prices were being changed from draft to draft over (sometimes) months - the words really helped keep track of totals payable.
Yesterday I was reading through a contract, drafted by one party and apparently approved by another, and evidently satisfactory as far as my client was concerned. I was however the first lawyer ever to come anywhere near it ... It purported to deal with the paternity right of a corporate body, and also protected the personal data of the three parties none of which are natural persons; it required none of the parties to do more than use reasonable endeavours to discharge the key obligations it imposed; and, the real reason for this digression, it contained many words and phrases given capital initials in the manner of defined terms, but not a single definition. Which reminded me how much I hate unnecessary defined terms.

Don't get me wrong, I love the way playing with defined terms in a legal document can have a huge effect on its meaning, and how a long and impenetrable contract can be made so much more terse and comprehensible by judicious use of defined terms. If I were minded to improve the one I read yesterday the first thing I would be would be to introduce a set of defined terms. I don't, however, feel that defined terms add anything except pomposity to client briefings and newsletters of the sort mass-produced by what I suppose we can now properly call "law firms", those professional organisations formerly known as firms of solicitors. Here's a doubly appalling example (no names, no packdrill) which I found after about 15 seconds' research on the Net:

The Bribery Act 2010 (the Act) 
The Bribery Act 2010 (the Act) came into force on 1 July ...
Classic! Just in case, in an article about the Bribery Act 2010, the reader would have trouble understanding what the author (who was not identified) meant by the expression "the Act". This is what  Robert St Ivo might call the Statement of the Bleeding Obvious school of drafting. I wonder whether it was a fee earner or someone in the firm's marketing department (they definitely have one) who created that abomination?

Even when used in legal documents, the irritation value of defined terms is greatly enhanced when bold type is used for them. I fail to see what additional value this has, unless the document is being written for the benefit of someone who is too dim to understand how these things work. The same goes for defined terms in block capitals, which are less often encountered but which seem to me to be equally unnecessary.

Next: date formats. I can hardly wait to let off steam!

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