Law and writing

  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 879.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_term_node_tid::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/modules/taxonomy/views_handler_filter_term_node_tid.inc on line 303.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_boolean_operator::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_boolean_operator.inc on line 149.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 879.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 879.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/montage/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 879.
By Teodoro Lorenzo A. Fernandez

I DISTINCTLY remember reading a Supreme Court decision for the first time as a junior Legal Management student almost five years ago. What made the experience so memorable was that I had to read the case from its general reference number until the part where it read “so ordered” many times to comprehend the decision.

It was not the technical legal terms that made the decision difficult to understand, but the manner in which it was presented. It was plainly confusing.

The dominant use of the passive voice made the text more difficult to understand. Also, the use of archaic terms, like “thereof,” “therein,” “thereon,” above others, confused me more.

As a news writer for this publication then, I was trained to construct grammatically sound sentences and write in the active voice, which focuses on the doer of the action. Redundancies and archaic terms are simply not allowed. Use appropriate nouns and pronouns, was the advice of my editors.

Aside from some Supreme Court decisions, other legal references, like a number of law books, are not “reader-friendly.” The adjective applies also to a number of the country’s laws and implementing rules and regulations.

Wrong spelling is forgivable because these cases are sometimes caused by careless encoders or typists. But poor syntax and dangling modifiers repeated a hundredfold are not.

I do not wish to take anything away from the authors and the ponentes, but I’ve always felt that their manner of presenting ideas still have room for improvement. Law students are dependent on law books and Supreme Court decisions for legal principles and enlightenment on difficult questions of law and ambiguous provisions of law. These facts make it all the more compelling for legal authors to ensure that their opinions reach their readers easily and clearly. After all, the main objective of these books and decisions is to communicate.

***

I hate the idea that readers will try to comprehend your work because they have to. It goes against the idea of communication. The purpose of writing is defeated when it is only the author who understands what he wrote.

Writing, in general, and legal writing, in particular, do not have to be taxing. Ideas can be expressed in a way that the saying “one word is enough for a wise man” is given credence.

I abhor poorly written legal materials. As a result, I have become apprehensive and discriminating when buying law books.

Some of my law school friends tell me that they buy the thick books because these are the “loaded” ones. But I tend to disagree at times. It is not the thickness of these books that really matters. I am of the opinion that what matters is the ability of the author to get his reader to read from one sentence to the next, from one paragraph to the next, from the first page to the last, or from cover to cover that counts. The content of a book becomes immaterial if a reader would rather not finish reading the book because he has been turned off by the heavy language and the poor presentation.

It may be true that the thicker books have more to say, but a commentary will not serve its purpose if a reader ends up just reading without understanding anything.

Indeed, it is intimidating to read thick law books. But I do not mind reading a thousand pages of legal opinions when the author has that ability to be understood. It is this ability that distinguishes a great author from one who is merely trying to be.

***

Laws are enacted primarily to govern the relations of men. It is for this reason that laws should be written in a way that an ordinary man will understand them easily.

I believe that laws should not be worded or structured in a way that only lawyers or law students will understand. Laws concern everyone, so it would be a service to the public if the sentences of statutes are put together and presented in a manner that can be easily grasped.

It does not mean that laws will be written or should be rewritten the way a grade-one pupil writes. The technical terms will always be there, but there should be an effort to make the tenses more consistent and to eradicate very long comma sentences, which tend to make the readers gasp for breath. Archaic words should also be discarded.

Reading laws should be, in a way, like reading your favorite columnist in a newspaper everyday.

Montage Vol. 9 • February 2006