"Know all Men by These Presents". Those were the first words in a release I reviewed in 2014. Yes, 2014.
Granted, the drafter of the document was on the verge of retirement, but still, who writes like this anymore? And I am not referring to the non-gender-neutral terminology. I could (and likely will) write a whole other blog post on gender-neutral language in law and related issues. For example, there is a prominent court reporting agency in downtown Toronto that identifies male lawyers on their transcripts as John Smith Esq. and female lawyers as simply Ms. Jane Smith (at least they did the last time I used them a few years ago). This irked me to no end. Why 'honour' only men with the title of esquire? I am a lawyer too. And yes, I do understand the historical context of 'esquire'. Anyway, I digress. This blog post is really about lawyers' love of confusing language and legalese. The release mentioned above went on to state that "the parties hereto doth hereby remise, release and forever discharge each other . . ." Hereto? Doth? Really? When was the last time you used the word "doth" in a sentence, or "hereto" for that matter? And what exactly does "Know all Men by these Presents" even mean? I have no idea. I just picture a bunch of old men holding onto gift wrapped boxes. I can only guess that it means something along the lines of "Let everyone know".
As a corporate litigator, I read many contracts searching for a clause that would either save my client's behind or bury the other side. After hours of reviewing these dense documents I would often have to read the same clause multiple times just to understand it. Fortunately, my clients were sophisticated corporations who could afford expensive lawyers to interpret the language for them. Unfortunately, most people cannot afford to have a lawyer review every document or contract they sign. The majority of bank agreements, service agreements, leases, waivers at children's birthday parties etc. all contain our lawyerly language. People are likely not reading the documents they sign or if they do read them, probably do not understand them. So, why have lawyers not embraced plain language or "modern contract drafting" as some call it? Is all of this gobbledygook/legalese necessary?
Some argue it is . Some argue that plain language in legal documents and legislation generates errors. They also argue that the law is too complex to narrow down into 'simple' words and that plain language oversimplifies or changes the meaning of the contract.
Others, such as PLAIN ("The Plain Language Association InterNational") disagree. They argue that plain language is not about dumbing down the words but making them more accessible to the reader. Which is, perhaps, what concerns some lawyers. If the words are too accessible, will people need us anymore to act as drafters and interpreters? Or, are we just lazy and it is too much work for us to leave behind our precedents and the language that has become second nature to us?
Maybe there is a happy medium. Recently, I came across an interesting terms of service agreement on an accounting website. For each clause of the "traditional style" contract there was a plain language or "simple terms" commentary. The introduction to the agreement states:
An example of one of the regular contract clauses: "[The Company] may, without notice or liability, add, discontinue or revise any aspect, mode or design of the Services which include but not limited to the scope of service, time of service, or to the software/hardware required for access to the Services."
The "Simple Terms" explanation is: "Sometimes things change, even [The Company]." 
Now, I am not sure what a court would do with these "Simple Terms" if there was ever a dispute over the interpretation of the contract, but I like the effort.
So, maybe we can take baby steps. The next time you draft a release, a contract, a will or power of attorney, look at your precedent: is there a "doth" in there? A "hereto"? Maybe switch the "doth" to "do" and just get rid of the "hereto". And if you have "Know all Men" anywhere in your precedent, I suggest it is time to retire that document and enter the 21st century.
 The full terms of service can be found here.
5/26/2021 06:11:36 pm
I came across your post when Googling "Know all men by these presents." I agree with your points, but I don't see that the "plain language" accounting website is any better with their sexist, ageist "explain it to my grandma" bullshit. Some turd accountant had better be careful he's not condescendingly mansplaining to Katalin fricking Kariko.
9/23/2021 04:03:16 am
I must say that I found your post quite refreshing.
1/10/2023 11:31:16 pm
Not to mention that “doth” (third person singular) doesn’t match the plural subject! If you wants to be pretentious and impress with fancy words, you’d better learns to conjugate them properly.
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Erin C. Cowling is a freelance lawyer, entrepreneur, legal career consultant researcher & writer, and President and Founder of Flex Legal Network Inc., a network of freelance lawyers.