Is it part of your lawyer’s job to make sure you understand your legal situation?

The law is complex but does your legal advice or information have to be as well? Is it part of your lawyers job to make sure you fully understand your legal situation, no matter how complex? We think so.

Recently on this blog we discussed the importance of training law students to be good communicators as well as good lawyers. This month the Law Institute of Victoria Journal featured an article by our Executive Director Joh Kirby on why applying plain language principles could give lawyers a strong commercial edge.

In the article, Joh argues that plain language written communication is a good foundation for any legal practice. She points out that ‘clients who understand their legal situation are more likely to be able to make informed decisions about it and more likely to be satisfied with their legal advisor and the legal process generally’.

In some countries there are now laws to encourage the use of plain language legal information by government and business. The US now has the Plain Writing Act (2010) (US), which applies to forms, information on services and benefits, and compliance documents, and aims to promote clear communication from government to the public. In South Africa, consumer legislation has been introduced that requires certain business documents be in plain language.

Legislation to enforce the use of plain language is not yet on the agenda in Australia (although we think it should be) but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept legal advice or information that you can’t understand.

If you are seeking legal advice, ask that it is provided in a way that best meets your needs. If you want detailed information about the law as it applies to your situation, ask for it. If you’d prefer a plain language summary, ask for that. And if you don’t understand the advice or information you’ve been given, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for it to be revised or explained until you do.

A good lawyer will be able to provide legal advice in almost any format, style or language you need. In fact, they will be happy to do this if it means their client understands the advice they’ve been given and are satisfied with the service they’ve received.


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