The Rise of Plain Language Laws
60 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2021 Last revised: 8 Nov 2021
Date Written: October 1, 2021
When lawmakers enacted 778 plain language laws across the United States, no one noticed. Apart from a handful, these laws went untracked and unstudied. Without study, large questions remain about these laws’ effects and utility, and about how they inform the adoption or rejection of plain language.
This Article creates a conceptual framework for plain language laws to set the stage for future empirical research and normative discussions on the value of plain language. It unveils the first nationwide empirical survey of plain language laws to reveal their locations, coverages, and standards. In doing so, the Article creates a systematic method to find these laws. Then it coins categories and terminology to describe their coverage and standards, thus creating a timely launchpad for future scholarship on domestic and international plain language laws. Along the way, the Article exposes the previously unknown scope of these laws—from election ballots and insurance contracts to veterans housing and consumer contracts to regulatory drafting and governor reports. That scope underscores the pervasive influence of plain language across public and private sectors, and over lawyers and non-lawyers alike. More, the survey reveals significant intrastate and interstate variations and trends in coverages and standards. With this knowledge, for the first-time empirical research can more precisely measure the benefits and costs of plain language laws while controlling for variables. Plus, the Article sets the stage for a forthcoming series of normative assessments on the role and design of plain language laws. Ultimately, the Article reignites a lively discourse on plain language amongst lawmakers, practitioners, and academics.
Keywords: plain language, plain English, contract, consumer protection, commercial contract, environment, employment, access to justice, healthcare, property, housing, regulations, regulatory, administrative, judiciary, consent, waiver, financial disclosure, corporate disclosure
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