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.
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.