Competition calls out poor, rambling writing

December 19, 2012
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Know someone who could use a crash course in cutting to the chase? Ever read a legal document and thought that paragraphs of text could be reduced? Then perhaps you should nominate examples of unclear and bad language that could cause harm.

The WonderMark awards are put on by the Center for Plain Language, a nonprofit organization that wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable.

Of course, the center is encouraging nominations from the legal sector. I’ve read contracts, opinions and other legal documents and thought the language could be condensed and clearer. As a journalist, I try to get to the point as concisely and clearly as possible, but I think sometimes it’s the opposite in legal writing.

Following is an example given by the center of a Medicaid fraud letter.

The before: “Investigators at the contractor will review the facts in your case and decide the most appropriate course of action. The first step taken with most Medicare health care providers is to reeducate them about Medicare regulations and policies. If the practice continues, the contractor may conduct special audits of the providers’ medical records. Often, the contractor recovers overpayments to health care providers this way. If there is sufficient evidence to show that the provider is consistently violating Medicare policies, the contractor will document the violations and ask the Office of the Inspector General to prosecute the case. This can lead to expulsion from the Medicare program, civil monetary penalties, and imprisonment.”

The after: “We will take two steps to look at this matter: We will find out if it was an error or fraud. We will let you know the result.”

In 2012, The Commonwealth of Virginia, Fairfax County Circuit Court received a WonderMark award for its divorce forms and instructions brochure. The Center for Plain Language notes, “A word to the wise, try to avoid getting divorced in the Commonwealth of Virginia especially if you intend to read their ‘helpful’ divorce brochure–partially produced with help from the Fairfax County Bar. The 69-page brochure and use of Latin words ensures that you will need a lawyer if you want to get divorced in VA—or even if you just want to read the divorce brochure.”

If you’ve come across a document that was clear as day, you can also nominate that for a ClearMark award.

Last year, the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging won in the legal category of this award for its “Giving Someone a Power of Attorney for Your Health Care.” WellPoint Inc. and Victoria Law Foundation received awards of distinction in this category.

Click here for more about the awards.

Perhaps this post could have been more concise. I’ll work on that.
 

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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

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  4. My daughter was married less than a week and her new hubbys picture was on tv for drugs and now I havent't seen my granddaughters since st patricks day. when my daughter left her marriage from her childrens Father she lived with me with my grand daughters and that was ok but I called her on the new hubby who is in jail and said didn't want this around my grandkids not unreasonable request and I get shut out for her mistake

  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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