No, I’m not talking about the 80s glam-rock/heavy metal band. Gene Simmons’ tongue fetish freaks me out far too much. I’m talking about the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! Also known as Occam’s razor (ie, the fewer assumptions on which an explanation depends, the better it is.)
I have decided that true genius lies cutting to the heart of things; in describing complicated things in a simple manner. In explaining why I feel this way right now (and why I have not blogged for a while) I have just marked about 70 university law essays. Only 40 more to go. Sigh! This experience has filled me with enthusiasm for the KISS principle anew.
Despite the drive towards plain English in the law, many lawyers seem to feel that it is part of their job to make things complicated. Express your argument with as many big words as you can! Put words like eleemosynary into your letters of advice, just to show learned and clever you are… Now, as you can guess from some of my previous posts, I like words which are rare (or indeed, rarefied) but not when I’m trying to get my point across.
When I was a solicitor, I often found that I lacked the time to sit back and think about a case. I always intended to put a big sign on the back of my door which said “WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT…REALLY?” just to remind myself to whittle things down to their essence.
I once heard a story about a QC (now a Judge). The QC was acting for the respondent in an appeal. The barrister for the appellant took three days to present his argument, painstakingly going through every aspect of his argument. The QC stood up at the end of all this, and said “Your Honours, the appellant’s case is wrong for one simple reason…” 15 minutes later, after outlining the fundamental flaws in the appellant’s case, the QC sat down. He was finished. The Associate who told me about this performance said that it was simply breathtaking. Guess what? The QC won.
The moral of the story is that, sometimes, if words are carefully chosen, less is much, much more. One of my favourite judgments of all time is the judgment of Lord Denning in Thorton v Shoe Lane Parking Ltd  2 QB 163, in particular this extract describing the “offer and acceptance” procedure when one takes a parking ticket from an automatic machine:
“The customer pays his money and gets a ticket. He cannot refuse it. He cannot get his money back. He may protest to the machine, even swear at it; but it will remain unmoved. He is committed beyond recall. He was committed at the very moment when he put his money into the machine. The contract was concluded at that time.”
Brilliance, say I! No sentence with over 15 words. The passage paints such a vivid picture. I can just imagine the poor man remonstrating and pleading with the parking machine, then descending into swearing, and finally physically assaulting the machine.
It seems to me that sometimes, lawyers forget why they exist. This includes solicitors, barristers, legal academics, legal aid lawyers, government lawyers, judges…indeed, every facet of the legal profession! I know that I am guilty of this sin from time to time.
The point of being a lawyer is to communicate with the rest of the word. We are the mediators between the law and everyone else. If you are a solicitor, you are trying to explain the law to your client (and sometimes other parties). If you are a barrister, you are trying to explain the law to the Court and your solicitors. If you are a legal academic, you are trying to explain the law to students. If you are a judge, you are trying to explain the law to the parties who have asked you to determine their dispute and to the legal profession at large.
Before I get too carried away (and make a simple post complicated), I’d better stop. If you’re a lawyer out there reading this post, I implore you to remember your audience and KISS!