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Conferences and meetings

September breakfast meeting
30 September 2010
Conference - Statute Law Society - 2010 London 8 October 2010
4th international conference
with draft programme 
12-14 October 2010
10th anniversary conference on
Plain language & the law

Montreal, Canada
21 - 22 October 2010
Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel:Biennial conference Hyderabad
9-11 Feb 2011
Plain Language Association InterNational:
8th international conference
9-11 June 2011


Clarity's 4th international conference
Lisbon: 12-14 October 2010

The programme is now available here and there are more details on the conference website. The programme is billed as a "draft" but most speakers have confirmed and the organisers don't expect major changes.

But there will be extra events that are not shown there:
  • 3 sets of 2 half-day seminars on 12 October. They will have a separate programme, expected in a few days. They include Design and writing tips for complex forms and Visual Language for Lawyers.
  • A Clarity committee meeting during the 13 October lunch break.
  • A gala dinner on the 14th, with Eleanor Sharpston (UK), Advocate General at the European Court of Justice as guest speaker.

    For more information contact: Sandra Fisher-Martins, sandra.martins@portuguesclaro.pt, +351 21 888 6365


    Conference - Statute Law Society - 2010

    Saturday, 9th October 2010 the conference "Legislation and the Supreme Court" will be held in London. Speakers include:

    • Sir John Dyson, Justice of the Supreme Court
    • Justice Harvey Groberman, Judge of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia
    • Professor Paul Craig, Professor of English Law, University of Oxford
    • Professor David Feldman Rouse Ball, Professor of English Law, University of Cambridge
    • Jonathan Crow, QC Attorney General to the Prince of Wales and Former First Treasury Counsel

    Full programme and booking details (pdf)


    July breakfast meeting (London): Stylewriter plain English software

    Daphne Perry writes:

    We had another lively Clarity breakfast on 20 July, when the London members were happy to welcome one of our Singapore members on his last day of holiday in London. Here are some of the points discussed.

    Which pieces of legislation should be repealed as too badly-drafted to work with?
    The Government is consulting over the repeal of unnecessary laws, especially those affecting civil liberties or hampering business. We can make suggestions at this website. Anyone can search the database of suggestions already made, and add their own support or comments. If you nominate a piece of unintelligible legislation for repeal or improvement, and let other Clarity members know, we can add our support.

    When you amend a contract or a precedent, should you match the style or use your own? For example, should you say "must" if the rest of the contract uses only "shall"? Opinions varied between
    • "Make a start, put the new bits in plain style and never mind if it doesn't look consistent; just don't mess with defined terms" to
    • "In legislation, we copy the existing style even though it may hold back the movement towards plain language, because we cannot afford to introduce a new word for the same concept".
    Gentle editing - How do you persuade people to accept criticism? Suggestions included
    • editing in blue or green pen
    • always finding something to praise
    • saying "This is only a question of style", or explaining to your junior "This is my style; I need you to write like me".
    • using this quotation from The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto (3rd ed p89): "Once you put ideas in writing, they take on an incredible beauty in the author's eyes. They seem to glow with a fine patina that you will be quite reluctant to disturb" and suggest that the editing process, though it may feel annoying and humiliating at first, can lead to a new version you will finally prefer to the original.
    • calling for a note on editing and being edited, to warn the author "if you want me to edit, this is what I will do; this is why I do it; this is how you'll feel at first and this is how you will feel at the end".
    Plain English as a second language - Where English is not the writer's first language, the motivation to learn may be stronger but the task is more challenging. If you edit a document into plainer English, there is always a danger of changing the meaning away from what the writer intended. This danger is greater if the writer had in mind a non-English language concept, and perhaps also a non-English legal concept. We paused to sympathise with those who translate EU legislation, and with our legislators who may adopt it unchanged, even when it is not clear.

    Plain English in the law firm - another London firm has now plain-Englished all its boilerplate clauses, but have its marketing people gone too far in asking lawyers to use apostrophes, contractions and a chatty tone in all their newsletters?

    What am I doing this year to promote plain language? Members' proposed actions included:
    • training more lawyers in England and abroad
    • being more pro-active in suggesting plain English when editing for grammar, style and consistency
    • suggesting the repeal of unintelligible property legislation
    • changing lawyers' habits by changing the precedents they use.


    September breakfast meeting (London): Stylewriter plain English software

    At the next Clarity breakfast, on Thursday, 30 September, Daphne Perry will demonstrate the StyleWriter plain English software mentioned at previous meetings, and describe how one law firm has been using it. Then we can discuss members' experiences of using this or other style-checking software.

    The timetable is:
    8.00 City Marketing Suite open for breakfast
    8.30 Introduce ourselves
    8.35 Daphne Perry to introduce StyleWriter and show it in action
    8.50 Questions and discussion:
    • sharing experience of using this and other software to support plain English
    • how do you get other people to use software?
    • limitations: where do we still need human input?
    9.25 Wind up
    9.30 Those who have to get to work can get away: others can stay to talk until 9.45.
    As usual, we’re in the City Marketing Suite at the Guildhall (entrance G on the map) thanks to Clarity member Paul Double.

    Do bring others if you would like. As usual, there is no charge and guests are welcome, though we do ask non-members to join Clarity if they come a second time.

    Please email Daphne Perry daphne.perry@clarifynow.co.uk to reserve a place.


    May breakfast meeting (London): Plain language success in Australia

    The next Clarity breakfast, on Thursday, 20 May, will focus on plain language success in Australia.

    Our opening speaker is Peter Butt, past president of Clarity and founding director of the Centre for Plain Legal Language at the University of Sydney, emeritus professor of law with almost 30 years' experience of teaching and legal practice. In 2009, Peter was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Plain Language International Network (PLAIN) for his pioneering efforts in plain legal language.

    We also welcome Adrienne Showering, a corporate finance partner in the Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jacques; she has 20 years’ experience of practice in Australia, Hong Kong, and now London.

    The timetable is:
    8.00 City Marketing Suite open for breakfast
    8.30 Introduce ourselves
    8.35 Peter Butt to introduce the topic: plain language success in Australia.
    • Achievements so far in Australia – and what’s next?
    • What conditions have nurtured Australia’s plain language movement?
    • How does Clarity support plain language in Australia?
    • What parts of the Australian experience can help us now in England?
    8.45 Adrienne Showering to outline Mallesons’ plain language experience in Australia and London
    8.50 Questions and discussion.
    9.25 Wind up
    9.30 Those who have to get to work can get away: others can stay to talk until 9.45.
    As usual, we’re in the City Marketing Suite at the Guildhall (entrance G on the map) thanks to Clarity member Paul Double.

    Do bring others if you would like. As usual, there is no charge and guests are welcome, though we do ask non-members to join Clarity if they come a second time.

    Please email Daphne Perry at her new address daphne.perry@clarifynow.co.uk to reserve a place.


    July breakfast meeting (Hong Kong)

    Hong Kong Clarity members held another breakfast meeting on 9 July at the Department of Justice's premises. Among topics discussed were recent format changes in Hong Kong legislation and means of promoting plain language in Hong Kong. Further meetings are planned.

    Contact Eamonn Moran
    (852) 2867 4488


    March 2010 breakfast meeting (Hong Kong)

    Hong Kong Clarity members held a breakfast meeting on 5 March at the Department of Justice's premises.

    11 members attended, as shown in the photograph. From left to right they are: David Morris, Lawrence Peng, Gilbert Mo, Suen Wai-chung, Eamonn Moran, Ruth Benny, Paul O'Brien, Pauline Zhou, John Chan, Jonothan Abbott and Tony Yen).

    They discussed various topics about clear legal writing in both the Chinese and English languages, and agreed to write a series of articles about legal writing with a view to having them published in the official journal of the Law Society of Hong Kong.

    Another meeting is planned for June or July.

    February breakfast meeting: Plain language in legal education

    Daphne Perry writes that the February meeting was the best attended yet, with over 40 people and she adds this report:
    Some of the points made:
    • Admissions: Students have already picked up bad habits before they come to law school. Application forms may look like text messages, lacking full stops and capital letters. It is hard to teach the students at law school to give up legalese.
    • Grammar and punctuation haven't been taught in English state schools for many years. (Could lawyers help by supplying ready-made lessons for 6th forms?) Law schools are now teaching grammar, although some teachers thought this was too late in the student's education and would not work. Without it, students cannot learn to write correctly. Most detect mistakes by repeating a phrase in their heads to see if it sounds right. (This only works for those brought up among well-educated speakers.) For this reason, and to cover their insecurity, they repeat legalese.
    • Teaching clarity at law school: Every law school mentioned at the meeting (BPP, City, College of Law, London Met and Queensland UT) gives at least some training in clear writing. Some teach it separately; others incorporate it in the main compulsory subjects. One law school mentioned that it gets its own documents checked for clarity. A mature student finds some lecturers preached precision and accuracy but made mistakes of grammar and substance in their own materials.
    • Marking: Students do gain (or lose) marks for clarity, at least in some schools, but if the content is right they will not fail the course for lack of clarity.
    • Recruitment: Some law firms, when recruiting for summer placements, reject any application form that has more than 3 errors, no matter how stellar the applicant. One lawyer said new recruits with poor grammar would not progress within the firm.
    • Practice: If trained out of legalese at law school, lawyers can quickly revert once they begin practice. Some firms tell them to write, not like a lawyer, but considering the reader - for example, in a non-legal business style. In practice, trainees must adapt to their supervisor's style. Some teachers advise the students to wait until they get the chance to do it their way. Some do. Others lack the courage, the authority or the sense to change their style.
    • Practitioners' main concern is to get the business, service the client and get the job done. They are not much concerned about the content or style of their documents, or even about what would happen if a document went to court, since litigation is so rare. They are concerned about risk and about losing clients.
    • Risk management: Lawyers are risk averse, but they avoid risk by doing the same as before. If they do start putting their precedents into plain language, they may find some that would not stand up in court or left out some important point. Then they find plain English is a tool for risk management. It is time-consuming to rewrite precedents in plain English,
    • Training that works: In a law firm, involve the partners, get them to attend the training. Show the trainees rewritten samples of their own work so they see what's possible. Ask them to explain what they meant, or if they can see what else it might have meant, so they understand the need to re-read their work or show it to someone else. Set them homework. Don't criticise, but show how they can improve.
    Topics for 2010

    These topics for future meetings were suggested at the meeting and afterwards:
    • What would help me spread plain English in my organisation?
    • Plain English success in the Civil Service / in drafting statutory instruments
    • Software to measure and improve plain English
    • How can law firms help their trainees write more clearly and plainly, yet precisely?
    • What do clients think of the clarity of lawyers' letters, emails and legal documents?
    • Plain English success in other common-law countries.
    She asks for ideas for presenting these or other topics, or suggest participants or speakers to invite and questions we might ask. All suggestions welcome.


    CALC's next biennial conference: Legislative Drafting: A Developing Discipline
    Hyderabad: 9-11 February 2011
    Dates changed 29 March 2010

    Duncan Berry writes:
    The next Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel (CALC) conference is to be held in Hyderabad, the conference capital of India, from 9 to 11 February 2011, immediately after and at the same place as the Commonwealth Law Conference. This gives you the opportunity to attend both conferences without having to incur the cost of more than one air fare. So we look forward to meeting you in Hyderabad then.

    The CALC conference theme, which covers many aspects of legislative drafting and the role of legislative counsel, will provide CALC members with an opportunity to share ideas on the following topics:
    • Legislative drafting: Art, science or discipline?
    • Legislative counsel in developing countries
    • Legislating across languages: The challenges of law-making in multi-lingual jurisdictions
    • The role and efficacy of legislation
    • Emerging trends in improving legislative drafting: Harnessing Information and communication technology
    • The wavering line between policy development and legislative drafting
    • Training and development of legislative counsel.
    Anyone who wishes to present a paper at the conference should send an abstract to John Mark Keyes by 31 May. General enquiries can be made to Eamonn Moran.