WMU-Cooley Hosts Conversation on the Importance of Plain Legal Language

WMU-Cooley Law School’s Oct. 22 Community Conversation Series featured Professor Emeritus Joseph Kimble and Professor Mark Cooney, of the law school’s Kimble Center for Legal Drafting. Kimble and Cooney led the virtual discussion, “The Importance of Plain Legal Language.”

While discussing the importance of design in communication, Kimble used the design of Florida’s ballot during the 2000 election as an example.

Joe Kimble

Pictured: Distinguished Professor Emeritus Joseph Kimble

"Design is an important part of plain language,” said Kimble. “Look no further than the infamous Palm Beach butterfly ballot in 2000. You'll remember that the election was decided by 537 votes in Florida, and estimates are that between 2,000 and 3,000 Al Gore voters mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan. That ballot changed history, and it changed the Supreme Court."  

Cooney reviewed the importance of concise understandable language when filing court documents. He denounced the idea that legal jargon is preferred within the legal profession and shared information from a survey of judges.

"Over 80 percent of judges prefer plain language over legalese," said Cooney.

While putting a figure on what poorly written documents cost businesses, including the legal profession, Kimble said, "Poor communication costs business and government untold millions and billions of dollars every year. I've said that it's the great hidden cost of doing business and carrying on the government."

WMU-Cooley Law School created the Kimble Center for Legal Drafting in 2018. Kimble is a distinguished professor emeritus, with the goal to produce and make available to the public some important legal forms—and to write them in plain language. The Center’s executive director is Professor Mark Cooney.

Oct 28 2020

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