>> Progress on Plain Language

Progress on Plain Language

By Judge Mark P. Painter

The U.S. Supreme Court deserves a standing ovation: it has just approved Civil Rules that have been redrafted in plain language. The new rules were sent to Congress on April 30. They take effect on Dec. 1, unless disapproved, which is highly unlikely, as there are no substantive changes. We can count this a major victory for the plain-language movement.

The four-year project was simply to clean up the wording – not to changes any outcomes. U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal served as chair, and federal judges, lawyers, and law professors made up the committee. But major credit must go to the “style consultant,” Professor Joseph Kimble of Thomas Cooley Law School. Kimble is an advocate of plain language and president of the international organization Clarity, serves as the executive director of Scribes (the American Society of Writers on Legal Subjects), and is a founding director of the Center for Plain Language.

Strangely, the project hasn’t received much notice – I didn’t hear about it until last week. But that might change.

The prestigious Burton Awards for Legal Excellence has named the project as the winner of its 2007 “Reform in Law” award. The awards program is in association with the Library of Congress and the Law Library of Congress. The specific winners are the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, which carried out the project, the Standing Committee on Rules of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which supervised the project, and Professor Kimble for his part in this achievement.

It is amazing what can be done to simplify legalese. Here are a few examples.

Congratulations to the federal courts for their leadership, and to Professor Kimble for his achievement. Maybe the states can address their rules next.

For a complete copy of the new rules, go to: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/ orders/courtorders/frcv07p.pdf


I always show the readability scores for the column. Statistics for this column (my writing only): 15 words per sentence, 11 percent passive voice, and grade level 10.4.

There shall be one form of action to be known as “civil action.” There is one form of action – the civil action.
When an order is made in favor of a person who is not a party to the action, that person may enforce obedience to the order by the same process as if a party; and, when obedience to an order may be lawfully enforced against a person who is not a party, that person is liable to the same process for enforcing obedience to the order as if a party. When an order grants relief for a nonparty or may be enforced against a nonparty, the procedure for enforcing the order is the same as for a party.
The practice as herein prescribed governs in actions involving the exercise of the power of eminent domain under the law of a state, provided that if the state law makes provision for trial of any issue by jury, or for trial of the issue of compensation by jury or commission or both, that provision shall be followed. This rule governs an action involving eminent domain under state law. But if state law provides for trying an issue by jury – or for trying the issue of compensation by jury or commission or both – that law governs.
When two or more statements are made in the alternative and one of them if made independently would be sufficient, the pleading is not made insufficient by the insufficiency of one or more of the alternative statements. If a party makes alternative statements, the pleading is sufficient if any one of them is sufficient.


Mark Painter has served as a judge on the Ohio First District Court of Appeals for 11 years, after 13 years on the Hamilton County Municipal Court. Judge Painter is the author of The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Legal Writing. It is available from http://books. lawyersweekly .com. Judge Painter has given dozens of seminars on legal writing. Contact him through his website, www.judge painter.org.