Speaking and writing with clarity is a core need for communication. In all professions focusing on improving access to justice, this concept is woven throughout our work as a key element to enabling our constituencies, clients, and users to understand process and obligations. Work to make language easier to understand is particularly important in the legal profession, where use of technical language, “legal-ese,” and jargon can make already-complex concepts opaque for users of the justice system.
Those of us dedicated to making legal documents intelligible to laypeople can probably all point to one tool that we use or recommend to help with this work. Often we learn of these tools and resources through word of mouth. Wouldn’t it be great to have all of these resources cataloged in one place? (Hint: read on!)
Individuals no longer have to go it alone. Courts are also participating in this greater push to improve access to justice through clarity of communication with the public. In order to move this initiative forward, and following on the heels of a very successful webinar on the topic, the National Association for Court Management (NACM) put together a resource guide devoted to helping courts speak, write, and generally communicate in plain language.
We at the Access to Justice Lab are no strangers to studying this concept. Jim Greiner’s foundational work, Self-Help Reimagined, is a great resource for understanding what is useful plain language (it is available in the guide!). We then expand on those ideas in our Problem of Default and Guardianship studies, where we test the success of self-help materials, designed with the concepts of Greiner’s work in mind, in debt collection and guardianship cases. More work of this kind is in the hopper at the Lab as we work on studies surrounding the effects of expungement and the usefulness of various components of court forms. Stay tuned as we develop those studies more fully.
The NACM guide takes plain language to another level by speaking in plain language…ABOUT plain language! Reading through the guide, you will harken back to the grammar work you did as a young person, find before and after examples, and learn about tools and resources that can help you along the way. NACM members also endeavored to combine all of the great tools they learned about individually through word of mouth into an appendix of resources in the guide.
We look forward to learning how people use this great resource and – hopefully – evaluating its impact!
Note: For non-NACM members, there is a fee to access this new resource.