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Legalese informally refers to specialized terminology and phrasing used by those in the legal field and within legal documents. Legalese is notoriously difficult for the public to understand. Key features of classic legalese include long, wordy, complicated sentence structures utilizing passive voice and obsolete formalisms, and the usage of Latin, archaic, or unnecessarily long words when simpler and clearer language exists.

Although there has been movement towards the use of plain or simple English, legalese persists in the legal field. This is often attributed to legal professionals who believe that legalese increases the prestige of legal jobs, impresses clients, and protects the market demand for legal services. Proponents of legalese also hold that it allows for greater precision in legal writing. The formation and use of boilerplate contracts and form documents encourages legalese, as there is no economic value in rewriting these such templates.

Legal writing courses in law schools are increasingly emphasizing the benefits of legal writing that is clear, concise, and can be understood by non-legal readers. Proponents of plain English argue that since non-lawyers have their legal rights, duties, and obligations adjusted by legal instruments, parties should be able to understand the content of the instrument without having to incur the added expense of hiring a lawyer to translate legalese.

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]