Monday, August 20, 2007

How to Read Legalese

If you're reading this, then you probably have to read legalese as part of your research into sales and use tax problems.

I don't disagree with the old joke that lawyers write legalese to keep themselves employed. But to be less cynical for just a second, there is a reason...precision. Well-crafted legal language should leave nothing vague, nothing gray. There will be no pronouns, since you can't be sure who "he" refers to.

So here are a few tips that I've picked up:

1. Be patient. This stuff isn't written for third-graders. It ain't like reading Harry Potter. You're going to have to face the fact that you may have to spend some time reading and analyzing. Take a deep breath.

2. Diagram the sentences. Remember 6th grade English class where you learned how to do this. And you whined about how you'd never have to be able to do this! While you don't have to actually diagram (although it might help), pay attention to the structure of the material. Note the conjunctions, the commas, the semi-colons, etc. Strict rules of grammar apply when you're talking about reading legalese.

3. I find that it helps to actually map out relationships and even give the parties names when I'm trying to unscramble legalese.

4. Bulletize the text if it presents you with several conditions.

Pardon me while I finish reading Harry Potter.

Sales Tax Guy

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