INTRODUCING CAP YOUR PEN CONSULTING
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Welcome to our blog, where we will post about plain language, rulemaking, and other legal-drafting-related topics. But why these topics? Well, for three reasons.
Plain language means making it easy for a reader to find and understand information. But have you, as a reader, generally found a contract, insurance policy, or other important information written in plain language? Probably not. This is troublesome, because neglecting plain language causes a slew of problems, ranging from confused and cranky readers to constant litigation and lawsuits. Plain language takes work, and few people put in the work.
Thinking about rulemaking in Minnesota the past year, you would probably only associate it with the clean-cars rule (notice the hyphen in the phrasal adjective). But there have been a half dozen or more rules proposed and adopted during this time, from assisted-living standards to horse racing. All rulemaking affects Minnesotans in some way, but there is no comprehensive way to track it, and little appetite for the media to report on it. Unfortunately, this neglect does a disservice to Minnesotans.
Connected with plain language and rulemaking is legal drafting. Agencies draft rules. They do a mostly abysmal job. By being abysmal at legal drafting, agencies make it harder for regulated parties to comply with the law and for even agencies themselves to understand what the law says. Besides agencies, the legislature does a terrible job of writing the law. The result is that people don't understand nor comply with the lawn, resulting in unnecessary and costly litigation.
Where do we come in?
We specialize in all three topics. I became addicted to plain language while at the University of Chicago getting my master's degree. I took a famous course, nicknamed the "Little Red Schoolhouse." This course teaches writers how to respect and focus on their readers, not themselves. Its principles are reflected by many famous writers, such as William Zinsser and Bill Walsh. The main man behind the reader-focused concepts was Joseph M. Williams, a genius who wrote Style: Toward Clarity in Grace.
After I graduated, I returned to Minnesota, where I got a job at the revisor's office, a nonpartisan office at the Minnesota Legislature that does all the final bill and rule drafting and many other important legal duties. When bored during late-night lulls watching the legislature debate, I would read the office's rule manuals, especially the sections on legal drafting. Introduced to the likes of Bryan Garner and Joseph Kimble, I combined my Chicago writing experience with legal plain language. Like Joseph Williams, Garner and Kimble are geniuses (yes, many geniuses exist here), and have dedicated their lives to legal plain language and to writing generally. I am here to humbly try and supplement and carry on their work.
So as the owner of Cap Your Pen Consulting, I use my background and experience to help businesses write clearly for their clients, to help people participate in the legislative and rulemaking processes, and to help anyone else interested in writing clearly.
A few notes
My dad, a journalist and longtime editor, taught me that everyone needs an editor. He edited thousands of pages of my work during my school years. And now I edit his blog. I say this because I didn't have anyone edit this. There are probably mistakes or unclear sentences. So just because I specialize in plain-language writing does not mean that I am perfect or mistake-free. I can't edit my own work, and neither can you. Everyone needs an editor.
We also have a very small staff, and there is much rulemaking to track. So please be patient and don't hesitate to point out mistakes or suggest ways to make our website better (more information and features will be gradually added). Ideally, the state of Minnesota, with a slightly bigger staff and budget, would have a centralized rulemaking database. Until that happens, Cap Your Pen Consulting is here to fill the void and explain rulemaking and legal drafting in plain language.