Friday, October 22, 2010

Student note on the "Plain English" movement and its shifting goals.

Here's a new law review note that some of our readers might be interested in which is authored by U. of Iowa College of Law graduate Kali Jensen.  Entitled "The Plain English Movement's Shifting Goals," it can be found at13 J. Gender Race & Just. 807 (2010).

From the introduction:

The Plain English Movement advocates for communication in language that an average person can understand.  This Movement has both enjoyed support and faced opposition from attorneys since its inception. The original goal behind the Movement was to provide access to justice for groups that historically have not had the resources to understand and  [*808]  interpret the law.  However, the motivation behind the Movement has recently shifted away from access to justice and toward cost-effectiveness. Many governmental agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration, are adhering to plain English principles by implementing policies encouraging their employees to write in plain English.  While these policies are beneficial, the motivations behind them are inconsistent with the original goal of Plain English. The supporters of the Plain English Movement must refocus their efforts on providing legal materials that affect the lives of historically disadvantaged groups in plain English.

This Note begins with a brief history of the Plain English Movement and courts' enforcement of plain English statutes. Next, it explores the more recent developments in the Movement, which lately has been the most successful in regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This Note argues that these agencies' policies are motivated out of economic concern and give no weight to concerns about access to justice. Instigating plain English requirements in regulatory agencies merely perpetuates the inequalities in access to justice, because these requirements benefit only those people who already have access to legal advice and financial resources. Finally, this Note also argues that the Plain English Movement is not inimical to the legal profession's interests, and it will encourage attorneys to take a more active and direct role in the Plain English Movement by using plain English with clients.


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