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Understanding legalese

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Using plain language

As far as possible, writing should be kept plain and simple. This is important both for the writer in maintaining the focus of the message he or she wants to deliver and for the reader who is trying to understand the writer’s message. Therefore, sentences should be short – ideally they should contain an average of 12-15 words. However, for centuries lawyers have written very long, complex sentences. This is often the case in statutes and regulations.

While it is not best practice to write using legalese, it is important to be able to understand it as many legal texts contain complex grammar, punctuation, and terminology.


United States Internal Revenue Service Section 401(a)(5)

Section 401(a)(5) sets out certain classifications that will not in themselves be considered discriminatory. However, those so designated are not intended to be exclusive. Thus, plans may qualify under section 401(a)(3)(B) even though coverage thereunder is limited to employees who have either reached a designated age or have been employed for a designated number of years, or who are employed in certain designated departments or are in other classifications, provided the effect of covering only such employees does not discriminate in favor of officers, shareholders, employees whose principal duties consist in supervising the work of other employees, or highly compensated employees. For example, if there are 1,000 employees, and the plan is written for only salaried employees, and consequently only 500 employees are covered, that fact alone will not justify the conclusion that the plan does not meet the coverage requirements of section 401(a)(3)(B). Conversely, if a contributory plan is offered to all of the employees but the contributions required of the employee participants are so burdensome as to make the plan acceptable only to the highly paid employees, the classification will be considered discriminatory in favor of such highly paid employees.

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