The man on the Clapham omnibus

You know, there’s a massive irony with the law. As lawyers try to cover all the bases, they often make it harder to understand what they’re talking about. Which creates loopholes and ambiguity. And that stuff bleeds over into Ts and Cs, contracts, and the nooks and crannies of business writing.

Who are you writing for?
 

But we don't need to cover every single eventuality every time we put pen to paper. Credit your readers with a little common sense.

My mum’s a lawyer. And she taught me about this guy: the man on the Clapham omnibus. In law, he’s the benchmark for a reasonable man (or woman). He’s how you can judge whether somebody has behaved, well, reasonably. He’s not overly educated – just reasonably. Not overly smart – just reasonably.

He’s just an average guy.

As long as he’s happy with what you did: it’s okay. Was what you just said offensive? Well, the man on the Clapham omnibus doesn’t think so. So you’re off the hook. Did you make sense? The man on the Clapham omnibus thinks so. So yes.

Write for someone with some common sense
 

To make sure people can understand you, you need to be simple and clear. And that’s easy: just get to the point. Stop confusing matters with extraneous words and caveats. Stop using passive sentences. Basically, if you’re writing a contract and you don’t want somebody to do something – just say so.

Don’t write like this (which I actually read somewhere):

All information regarding the employer, the employer’s family and the employer’s domestic or personal circumstances is strictly confidential and cannot be discussed with a third party without the employer’s specific permission, or in an emergency situation.

When you could just say:

Everything about your employer is private. So you can’t talk about it, unless they let you or it’s an emergency.

Everyone knows ‘talk’ means they can’t write about it, shout about it, whisper it, tweet it, video it or anything else. It’s straightforward. You don’t need to rattle off a list to explain what you mean. They get it.

The man on the Clapham omnibus would certainly understand. And that’s all that matters.

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