The Public Speaks: An Empirical Study of Legal Communication

14 Scribes J. Leg. Writing 121 (2011-2012)

32 Pages Posted: 23 May 2011 Last revised: 14 Sep 2012

Date Written: May 20, 2012


Most attorneys agree that writers need to tailor their writing to a particular audience. This just makes sense. So it is not a stretch to argue that to convey a clear message to a client, attorneys should use plain language. But there is little empirical data supporting the public’s preference for plain language. Rather, most sources largely rely on anecdotal evidence to prove this point.

Therefore, in 2011, I conducted a study to help measure many of the following unanswered questions: To what degree does the public prefer plain language over traditional legal language? How do people react when they see complicated legal language that they do not understand? How often will people look up these complicated terms? Have they ever been so frustrated by such language that they quit reading a document?

This article describes this study, analyzes the 376 responses to the survey, and explains the results in numerous, detailed ways. What you'll find is that this study provides much needed support for a simple principle – that the public prefers clear, understandable communication.

Keywords: plain language, plain English, communication, client, client communication, active voice, complex words, complicated words, Latin, legalese, written communication, oral communication, empirical, client preferences, public preferences, clarity

Suggested Citation

Trudeau, Christopher R., The Public Speaks: An Empirical Study of Legal Communication (May 20, 2012). 14 Scribes J. Leg. Writing 121 (2011-2012), Available at SSRN: or

Christopher R. Trudeau (Contact Author)

UALR Bowen School of Law ( email )

1201 McMath Street
Little Rock, AR 72202
United States
5013249936 (Phone)
5013249936 (Fax)


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