You wouldn’t sign a document written in Latin. So why accept Legalese?
Imagine someone puts a contract in front of you, an agreement that may turn out to be of life-or-death importance. The document is in ancient Latin. You are not a Latin scholar. You may be able to pick up some words, but on the whole, the entire document is impossible to understand.
Let’s be honest: You wouldn’t sign it. You would look, with great hesitation, at the person who put it in front of you. You would start looking around for hidden cameras.
Who are you writing for?
We sign documents that may as well have been in Latin all the time. When was the last time you read a terms and conditions document? Let’s take an example. Toyota is the best-selling car brand in the US. Most people living in the US have been to the Toyota website at least once. Look at the site’s terms of service. Trust me: you won’t read it. It is 7,647 words. The average sentence is 23 words long.
The average US resident reads at a level of around 8th grade. That means, on average, it takes almost 40 minutes to study Toyota’s legal terms. You have already guessed what this means: Nobody reads it. Maybe you decide that’s fine for the website of a car you might buy at some point in the future. That’s not OK for many other things, especially in health care.
I have long believed that lawyers don’t write legal documents for humans. Lawyers write them for a different audience: other lawyers. Maybe that’s tolerable for a contract between two companies. I don’t think that’s OK for a document made for real humans to read. Too often, attorneys forget the number one rule in writing: Remember your audience. If you are creating a business agreement, fine: You are a lawyer writing for other lawyers.
In health care, the people who should read the documents are regular people, like you and me. Some of the audience will be advanced readers. Often, they are people who can’t read well.
Keeping it simple.
At LifeFolder, we believe in simple language. It is an important part of what we do. Our goal is to convince 300m Americans to plan for end-of-life care. The documents that are available out there are often terrible. That is not OK, and we are going to fix it.
We hope others will start doing the same. We owe it to the human beings we are aiming to serve.