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Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Quotes Sharona Sternberg on Pitfalls of ‘Legalese’

Sunstein LLP Partner Sharona H. Sternberg was prominently quoted in a recent Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article about an MIT study on “legalese” and the reasons why legal language is challenging for laypeople to interpret.

Sharona, who earned her English degree summa cum laude from Barnard College, provided insight into the legalese debate between lawyers and professors, noting that there’s “a real power dynamic and privilege at play in using such legal jargon and confusing syntax that nobody else can really understand or penetrate.”

She goes on to say that, as a litigator, “we see where it goes wrong, and we’re constantly litigating the ambiguity that arises from the confusing ways that contracts are written or patents are written.”

According to the article, MIT’s studies highlight the rampant use of passive voice, “low-frequency jargon,” “nonstandard capitalization,” and “center-embedded clauses,” in legalese and conclude that “poor writing” is to blame rather than “specialized concepts.”

Sharona notes that she believes making contracts easier to understand would benefit everyone, however deviating from standard, vetted language is risky.

“The more confident and experienced you get, the more comfortable you are in just talking like a human,” she says. “It’s a skill that we try to teach people. Truly confident, experienced people don’t need to rely on that,” she said.

The complete Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article can be found here.

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