Trial Science | Jargon-fighting tools to help your audience
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Jargon-fighting tools to help your audience

Below is a paragraph out of a cover letter I was sent by my insurance broker regarding the renewal of my professional liability insurance:

With your agreement to the use of a Wholesale Broker in the placement of your coverage CRC is a Wholesale Broker and will be involved in the marketing and placement of your coverage.  CRC may approach carriers that are not admitted carriers in your State. A non-admitted carrier is subject to limited state financial solvency regulations and does not participate in the State’s insurance guaranty funds, which otherwise provide limited claims reimbursement for policyholders of insolvent insurers. Therefore, placement of coverage through a non-admitted carrier could result in financial exposure to you in the event that this non-admitted carrier becomes insolvent.

I found it almost incomprehensible, grammar issues aside.  [side note:  My agent is not Lewis Carroll and this letter is NOT the third verse of “The Jabberwocky”]

You face a similar dilemma every time you stand up to give your opening.  You know what you mean and, in your training, you have learned a way to say it.  I’m sure at Insurance Broker School this paragraph would get an A+, but for us regular folk, it is unadulterated gimble in the wabe.

Never fear.  There are some tools available to help you scale your presentation to your audience—a jury with a 5th to 11th grade reading level, on average.  Websites like usingenglish.com and readibilityformulas.com will take your pesky concepts and analyze them for you to see if you are even in the ballpark of where most jurors live their intellectual lives.

For comparison purposes, this table shows the [usingenglish.com] analysis of the broker’s paragraph up against the GOLD STANDARD OF PRESENTATIONS— a Steven Jobs’ last annual report to his shareholders:

 

 

Factor

Steven

Jobs

Insurance

Letter

Words per Sentence 10.5 25.5
Hard Words 2.9% 30%
Lexical Density 16.5 58.82
Fog Index 5.5 22.36

Notes:

  1. Jobs used much shorter sentences, which other research shows to be more understandable.
  2. Only 2.9% of Jobs’ words were over 3 syllables.  About a third of the insurance words were longer.
  3. “Lexical Density” is a measure of how hard it is to read, generally.  The higher the score, the harder it is.  This scale tops out around 70 or so.
  4. The Fog Index shows how many years of schooling it would require for you to understand the paragraph.  This difference is huge.  Jobs gave his annual report so a fifth-grader could figure it out.  The insurance letter would require 22 years of schooling!  For another comparison, a typical New York Times article requires 11.5 years of education.

 

How reliable are these ratings?  When you run the same insurance letter through readibilityformulas.com, it gets rated as “very difficult” and would require a “college degree or higher” to understand.

 

You are thinking about now, “OK, Dan, you pride yourself on translating legal concepts into everyday language and you crack the whip to make us explain things better.  How would you do at translating that paragraph?”  I accept your challenge.

 

Here is my first attempt:

 

We’d like to send your insurance application out to a variety of companies to get the best price we can.  CRC is the company that does that for us.  Some insurance companies are backed up by a state program in case they go bankrupt.  These are called “admitted companies” because they are eligible for this kind of state program.  Other insurance companies are not eligible for these kinds of state back-up programs.  Those are called “non-admitted” companies.  By signing your application, you are telling us that you agree to have CRC contact some of these “non-admitted” companies to get a price for your insurance.  If you decide to use one of those non-admitted companies for your insurance, you need to know that you may not be covered if you have a claim against you and the company does not have the money to cover it.  There would be no state program to “back-up” a bankrupt insurer and you may have to pay the claim yourself.*

When I ran it through usingenglish.com here is how it came out:

 

 

Factor

Steven

Jobs

Insurance

Letter

Dan’s

Rewrite

Words per Sentence 10.5 25.5 18.3
Hard Words 2.9% 30% 13%
Lexical Density 16.5 58.82 47.7
Fog Index 5.5 22.36 12.2

 

Readabilityformulas.com rates my rewrite as “average” difficulty and puts it at an 8th -10th grade reading level.  Not a bad start, but not to the Gold Standard yet.  However, this gives me an objective place to begin tweaking the content, shortening the sentences, maybe tossing in an example, and finding some images in PowerPoint to go with it to make it come alive in the jurors’ minds.

 

Here is my challenge to you:  extract a core, important concept from a case you have, a concept the jury MUST understand for you to win.  Write it out.  Drop it into usingenglish.com or readabilityformulas.com and see how close you can get to the Gold Standard.  Now you have a reliable starting point for reaching the average juror.

 

*a special Thank You to Peter Cuttitta of Porter Simon in Truckee, CA, for analyzing my rewrite for factual accuracy.  He rated my content as “generally accurate.”

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