Dull, dense terms and conditions written in complicated legalese have to change. Here’s why.

Invest in rewriting and you could save on legal fees. For starters, the longer and more tedious your Ts&Cs are, the longer it takes a lawyer to plough through them to work out what they mean. And if your customers can’t understand them, the law is likely to side with them, not you.

Besides all of that, Ts&Cs that are clear and sound human are a breath of fresh air to customers and great for your brand. A company that’s not trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Yes, please!

So you decide to rewrite yours. What goes in and what stays out? Here are some things to think about.

  1. If your terms and conditions are pompous, boring, tiny, repetitive, baffling, tedious and buried, no reasonable person is going to read them anyway. So if it came to court, you’d lose. Compare the potential legal costs with the copywriting costs. (I rest my case.)
  2. Read them from start to finish in one go. You’ll probably find that they’ve been added to over the years, and that the same points crop up in different places. Some of it will be meaningless and possibly even contradictory.
  3. Grab your red pen and take out everything that needs to change. Cut it if it isn’t really a term or a condition. If it’s information, put it somewhere else. If it’s important, put it in big print, somewhere more accessible.
  4. Take out the capital letters that have no place there. Here’s an example from a healthcare company:
    ‘The benefits of your scheme are intended to cover Treatment given by Specialists for acute episodes of illness or injury.’
    ‘Treatment’ and ‘specialists’ only need to be capitalised if they have a special, legal meaning in the document – ie are ‘defined terms’. But many of the Ts&Cs we see have capital letters scattered willy-nilly – these don’t make the document any more legal, just harder to read.
  5. Write your terms and conditions in your brand’s tone of voice. Yes you can, despite what your legal department might say. They can be consistent, straightforward and clear, without clouds of baffling legalese.
  6. If your lawyers put up their usual defences, disarm them with Mark Adler’s excellent book: Clarity for Lawyers, which Lord Bingham calls ‘a treasure house’.
  7. Terms and conditions are there to help avoid misunderstandings. Often we find they’ve turned into a list of threats and rules that go against the rest of the document. That’s why they’re small, and hiding away somewhere. If you’re ashamed of them, they need to be rethought and rewritten or cut completely.
  8. Don’t make yourself sound important; it comes over as pompous and bossy. It doesn’t make your terms and conditions any more legal if you stuff them with long words. In fact it can make them less legal if you use words that your customers can’t reasonably be expected to understand.
  9. Read this superb paper by Judge Mark P Painter of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. If you were under the impression that judges want to see and hear long words and longer sentences, this should help you see the light. Yes, he’s in the US and the law’s different, but good sense crosses borders.
  10. You still need to have your terms agreed by your lawyer, but use one who agrees with Mark Adler and Judge Painter.

What do you think?

Have impenetrable Ts&Cs had their day? Can there be such a thing as clear legalese?