Sunday, April 17, 2011

Failure to Understand Legal Language

While looking for a TED Talk about the environment to use in a research paper for English class, I stumbled across an interesting title in the sidebar. It read, “Alan Siegel: Let’s simplify legal jargon!” Seeing as my blog title contains the word jargon, I figured it would be treasonous if I didn’t click the link. Here’s what TED has to say, “Alan Siegel is a branding expert and one of the leading authorities on business communication, Alan Siegel wants to put plain English into legal documents for government and business.” Throughout this speech, Alan Siegel explains how he takes unintelligible legal documents and translates them into plain English so that consumers can better understand the content. His company tests the confusion level of documents and tries to simplify the language or provide examples of computations for paperwork like tax returns (Ironically, tax day is today). Siegel says that difficult language puts consumers at risk. I agree that helping the general population to understand legal documents is important; however, this method shows little faith in the people. Should we be changing the language or educating people before they approach legal paperwork (some of the simplification process does include teaching through example, as mentioned above)? In consumer education I learned to fill out very simple tax returns, but I don’t think I’m prepared to approach complex versions. Maybe schools should focus on strengthening the curriculum for classes like consumer education. I respect Alan Siegel’s work, but it seems like a short term solution. Siegel’s company is merely a band-aid for the larger issue at hand. Once again my computer is having formatting issues. I'll get this checked out. On a happier note, my favorite line from Siegel’s speech: I define simplicity as a means to achieving clarity, transparency and empathy, building humanity into communications.

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