Reviewed and approved by Kathryn Wayne-Spindler
What is Plain-Language?
Plain-language should allow for court users to understand what they need, comprehend what they find and read, and see or hear it the first time and know how they can use the information to access the legal system on their own volition. Plain-language can be beneficial to the courts as it can increase the operational efficiency of the court. Very few courts test their effectiveness when it comes to their communications to see what the best approach is.
Nowadays only a few governments including national, state, and local have enacted plain-language legislation. These are rules or guidelines to help those not in the legal profession understand and find legal terms fitting their personal situation. However, there are currently no standards or certification made by the courts. The American Bar Association’s standard 7.2 provides for the language-access standards for interpreters and translators requires plain-English language as the first step to a successful translation. None of the standards provided by the ABA identify the professional standards, qualifications, or process required for plain-legal-language professionals.
Why is Plain-Language Legislation Necessary?
The past few years have been stressful between the global pandemic and what seemed to be an all-out war on the Homefront from social justice protests and riots. It has been a rough time in American history. A lot of people are facing legal strain related to health risks, unemployment, loss of insurance benefits, depression, unhappiness, the increase of domestic violence, evictions, and foreclosures. This creates the need for comprehensible and trustworthy legal information to be more accessible.
Those individuals with legal problems and questions need to be able to find the information that they need by using plain language that is natural. Due to the closures and backlogging of courts, court self-help centers, legal services organizations, social services and government agencies, many individuals do not have access to the support staff of these agencies who had previously helped them with their questions and concerns.
Many people have been and still are hesitant to come into contact with others because of concerns for their health or immigration status. Since these are now greater concerns than before, many may seek help from a distance which can be a difficult task. Those in such situations need to be able to find the right legal words to identify their exact needs. Individuals who are not in the legal field will not know proper legal terms to search for, they will search broader, plain language terms in order to find what they need. Those who are in need of the information most may not know of the do-it-yourself legal tools that are readily available to them and their families even regarding serious situations.
Most legal professionals and courts have turned to remote technologies for hearings and services, but it is unknown how well this works for those who are not technology savvy. Individuals may also lack the ability, knowledge, or equipment to be able to use these new technologies. Before the pandemic, very few had ever heard of Zoom, but if you ask people now, everyone has heard about it.
With the limitations that have been placed on the court and legal services, people are more reliant on websites, information sheets, instructions, and video/audio recordings. The ability to have access to printed and recorded words has become extremely important. Legal information that is plain, tested by users, and accessible for those who have disabilities can do a lot to provide more usability and meet the challenges that today’s world faces. Without the modifications that is needed for today’s world, most individuals seeking legal help would not have access to justice.
Plain-language is a need in all state and federal courts that do not have some standard in place. Plain language is clear communication that can give all individuals trying to access the court system and the even broader legal system. This is not just beneficial to those who need help with translating or those with disabilities, this can help everyone.
The attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates are experienced attorneys who change with the times to meet the needs of their clients. Contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000 for assistance. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates practice law throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston counties as well as four mid-Michigan counties Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw and Roscommon. The attorneys handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Wixom; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Linden; Fenton; Flint; Grand Blanc; Holly; South Lyon; New Hudson; Howell; Clare; Gladwin; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; and many more Michigan communities. And soon to be opening another office in Dadeville, Alabama.
For more information, please see article “Legal Self-Reliance: Empowering Consumers Through Plain Language” by Julie Clement, Fern Fisher, and Maria Mindlin, Michigan Bar Journal, April 2021.