I've been asked how I go about "translating" legalese into plain language, and thought that this description of my method — although containing nothing startling — might be of interest to prospective clients as well as to other plainers.

I keep two copies of the source document on my computer, one in its original form for reference, and one (open on the left of my screen) as a working copy. The target document begins as a blank page, or as an earlier document of my own, on the right of the screen.

If I’m using my own precedent for the target document I begin by colouring the existing text red, changing it back to black — word by word if necessary — as I translate. At the end I search for red to ensure that no unwanted trace of the original remains.

I then work through the source document paragraph by paragraph, taking these steps, perhaps more than one at a time:

To the extent that it's convenient, I reorganise the document as I go. If I’ve drafted a document of this type before I can slot each paragraph, or part of a paragraph, into the appropriate place in the precedent. Some parts of the paragraph might go to different parts of the target document and be translated at different times.

As I go I annotate the target document with footnotes for the client. These explain any decisions I have made that might be controversial or puzzling, and they raise any questions that I haven’t raised earlier. Typical questions are:

When I reach the end I search for text not struckthru to ensure that nothing has been missed.

I then edit the target document, including its organisation, as described in writing tips.

The new document then goes to the client as the first draft.

When the client replies to the footnotes I discuss with them any instructions I think unwise before incorporating any additions or other changes to make a second — and hopefully final — draft.