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The Myth of the Magical Power of Legalese

by Vinay Jain

People commonly think that contracts must be written in legalese to hold up in court — as if lawyerly jargon somehow infuses an agreement with official legal power.

False.

There are only a few basic requirements to make a contract legally binding, and legalese isn’t one of them. One of the actual requirements is that both parties agree on what each will do (“mutual assent” or a “meeting of the minds”). Another is that they exchange something of value (“consideration” in legal parlance). That’s pretty much it — besides obvious things, like you can’t make an enforceable contract to do something illegal.

Many contracts don’t even need to be written down to be enforceable — although down the line, oral agreements can set the stage for he-said, she-said type disputes.

Unfortunately, the persistent myth of the magical power of legalese has very real negative consequences. People untrained in the law may feel compelled to cobble together legal-sounding language from forms they found on the web or received from friends and family. The result is often a confusing agreement with conflicting provisions — which is a big problem, not just in terms of enforceability, but for a host of other reasons too.

Alternatively, legal language can be so intimidating, and hiring a lawyer can be so expensive, that many people stay away from putting agreements in writing altogether, depriving themselves and the other person of a written record of their arrangement.

It’s time for something better.

photo of Vinay Jain
Vinay Jain

As Chief Legal Officer, Vinay serves as Shake's general counsel, is responsible for the company's legal contracts and content, and leads efforts to educate consumers and small businesses about the law.

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