In the first episode of Season 6, the President's top advisers are arguing about his orders. The National Security Advisor, Karen Hayes, disagrees with the White House Chief of Staff Thomas Lennox's interpretation of the President's wishes. Lennox is the early frontrunner for this season's unscrupulous White House adviser; Hayes, who previously worked for CTU, appears to be the voice of reason. When Lennox passes along an order that contradicts what the President had said, Hayes calls him on it.
"In plain English," she says, "you're second-guessing the President."
Lennox snarls, "Plain English does not allow for the nuances that my job requires, Karen."
Perhaps lawyers feel the same way, that plain English is inadequate for handling the "nuances" needed for legal writing. They think that legalese allows them to express themselves more precisely, as if talking about "said contract" is more precise than "this contract," or that "two (2) weeks" is more exact than "two weeks."
Traditionally, lawyers have aimed for a type of "precision" that results in cumbersome writing, with many long sentences collapsing under the weight of obscure qualifications. That "precision" is often illusory for two reasons: (a) ambiguity routinely lurks within traditional, legalistic language; and (b) when words proliferate, ambiguities tend to as well.
As for the notion that plain language is unsophisticated, once again just the reverse is true. It is much harder to simplify than to complicate. Anybody can take the sludge from formbooks, thicken it with a few more provisions, and leave it at that. Only the best minds and best writers can cut through.
So while the Machiavellian Chief of Staff might fear that plain English won't get his point across clearly, he would do well to listen to Jack Bauer, who regularly uses plain English to great effect:
- "The only reason you're conscious right now is that I don't want to have to carry you."
- "When I'm finished with you, you're gonna wish you felt this good again."
- "I'm gonna need a hacksaw."