Ditch the legalese for plain language with ChatGPT

By Mia Bonardi, with the assistance of generative AI

If you are still using complicated legal language in your communication—you are missing out on closing the deal with your clients. Using plain language can make it easier for your clients to understand what you mean and improve your ability to get and keep new clients.

Look around on the web. Successful businesses are writing simply and directly. But many legal websites are still stuck in a baroque, 19th-century style of formal writing. There are examples of this on the websites of government agencies, legal aids, and law firms.

Whether your client is a single person or group of people, or you are supporting an audience of self-represented individuals, it is time to ditch the legalese and help your client or audience understand you best. 

Introduction

This introduction is intentionally presented twice: first, it is presented using complex language and second, it is presented using plain language. I prompted a Generative AI, specifically Jasper, with “Simplify this text: [insert complex paragraph]”. 

Complex

Legal professionals today are presented with the extraordinary possibility of enhancing client-communication and court proceedings by partnering with Generative AI. This innovative technology can easily convert legal language into simplified, easy-to-understand terms — increasing access to justice. While the editing and review of outputs is still necessary, a combination of Generative AI and human expertise can provide the most effective and reliable plain language translation. By seamlessly combining artificial intelligence techniques with modern expertise, we unlock a new realm of opportunities for improving how stakeholders connect within the legal profession.

Simplified

Legal professionals now have the opportunity to use a special kind of technology called Generative AI. This technology can help make legal language easier for everyone to understand. It is still important to double check what the AI produces, but using both AI and human knowledge can help more people know their rights.

What Is Generative AI?

Generative AI is a kind of Artificial Intelligence. It uses special programs to make new and different things from data given to it. Generative AI can create text, music, and pictures. Some popular types of generative AI are ChatGPT, DALL-E 2, and Bing AI.

Generative AI is a type of technology that uses special computer programs to look at data and find patterns. This helps the computer create new things or make changes to things that already exist. Generative AI is becoming more important and will change how we use machines in the future.

What Is Plain Language?

Plain language is a way of writing using shorter sentences and easier words. This makes legal topics easier to understand. Plain language should be written at a 4th-6th grade level. It avoids legal jargon (legalese) that lawyers use which can be hard to understand. Whenever possible, plain language should be used so everyone can easily understand the information. 

Tips and resources

  1. Learn more about readability in Bryce Willey’s post: What is readability?
  2. Suffolk Lit Lab – Readability
  3. Plain Language Guidelines – Use Simple Words and Phrases
  4. Mass Legal Services – Making Legal Information Readable with Plain Language

Readability Tools

  1. Check readability on your own in Microsoft Word following these steps
  2. Hemingway Editor 
  3. WriteClearly (from OpenAdvocate)
  4. Grammarly
  5. WordRake

Prompting Generative AI 

Prompting Generative AI means giving it instructions or data. This could be translations of similar documents, legal terms and phrases, or rules about language accuracy. Providing more guidance helps Generative AI turn hard-to-understand legal words into plain language that is easier to understand.

The more specific your prompt is, the better your result will be. For example: 

Compare:

Define discovery

With:

What is legal discovery in plain language?

Which do you think will provide a more specific and accurate output from a Generative AI? (Read on for output).

Translating legalese into plain language

Generative AI can help people who work in the legal field communicate best with their client or audience. It can quickly and accurately translate legalese into plain language and is also good at looking through lots of information. Generative AI can help people understand legal documents better. But it is important to remember that outputs might not always be right, so you should check its results before you use them.

Some AIs need help to know what you want them to do. Jasper Chat and ChatGPT are examples of this and can be great for plain language translation:

An important plain language feature of Generative AIs is their ability to provide plain language definitions of legal terms:

 Some AIs can be programmed to give answers in a certain way. For example, here is the interface of Jasper’s “Explain It To a Child” Template which gives Jasper instructions on how to answer and then provides the response:

Generative AI is not perfect yet, but it can help lawyers turn hard-to-understand legal terms into words that people can best understand. This makes it easier for everyone to get the help they need and know their rights.

Proceed Cautiously and Always Review Outputs 

Generative AI can help with summarizing the law. It can look at large amounts of legal texts and find important ideas. But it should not be the only source of truth when it comes to summarizing the law:

  1. The models are only as good as the information they learn from. If this information is wrong or not complete, the model will also be wrong or incomplete, and it might give bad results in the legal summary.
  1. Models may not be able to explain all the details in legal texts. This is especially true for legal texts that have complicated ideas or rules. People with more knowledge and experience may be needed to really understand these kinds of texts.
  1. Legal summarization is a type of work that requires very important information, like court rulings and evidence. If someone only uses AI to do it, there might be mistakes that could cause big problems in a legal case.

While Generative AI can be helpful when summarizing legal documents, it needs to be used together with people who understand the law. People can make sure that summaries are accurate. Having AI assist people, but not do all the work, will give the best results for summarizing legal documents.

Combining AI and human expertise 

You will have more success if you talk to your clients and audience using words that are easier for them to understand. If you use plain language, people will understand what you mean better and it will help you get new clients and help your audience achieve their goals.

Using AI technology can help people understand legal terms and documents better. It can break down complicated words and instructions into language that is easier to understand. This will improve client communications and help the legal community make sure everyone, including those without lawyers, has access to justice. 

Ultimately, using Generative AI can help the legal community make the law simpler for everyone and give them confidence when navigating it.