Siben and Siben Conference on Plain Language and Simplification to be Held at Hofstra Law School on March 29, 2019

 In Family Law, Winter 2018-19

Approximately 14% or 32 million individuals in the United States can’t read.[i]  19% can’t complete a job application or read a newspaper. [ii] 50% of immigrants who enter this country lack basic English skills.[iii]   50% of individuals in this country do not understand the health information they receive, often resulting in dire consequences. Most individuals read below 8th grade reading level.[iv]  Some individuals read as low as 5th grade reading level. The legal system is faced with similar consequences of low literacy that is compounded in the area of civil law by the reality that the majority of individuals who come to court on family, housing, foreclosure, consumer debt and other cases, do so without attorneys.[v]

It is essential that the legal system communicate with users in language that is understandable to all.  New York is at the beginning of this journey.  Hofstra Law’s Center for Children, Families and the Law and co-sponsors Self-Represented Litigation Network, the Institute For the Advancement of the American Legal System, and Hofstra’s J.D. and Master of Forensic Linguistics Joint Degree Program will join together on March 29, 2019 at Hofstra Law School for its annual Siben and Siben Conference to discuss moving the legal system forward with respect to using plain language, understandable to most individuals, and the simplification of court processes.  The conference, entitled “Plain and Simple: Making the Legal System Accessible to All”, casts a broad net to include many who have the ability to make an impact on these most important issues including judges, court administrators, attorneys, educators, legislators and students, all of whom are encouraged to attend. The conference, which will address the nuts and bolts of implementing plain language in our statutes and forms and simplifying court processes, will open with a keynote speech by former Chief Judge of New York State, the Honorable Jonathan Lippman, who is most certain to set the right tone for the day.

The conference will feature a wide array of plain language and simplification experts who will share their specialized knowledge as well as participate in small working groups with the attendees on diverse topics. For example, judges, court administrators and practitioners will have a working session to discuss and recommend changes in the matrimonial and family law areas, which are far from simplified and use forms that are extremely complicated.  A session will be devoted to changing law school curricula so as to expose law students to plain language concepts.  A working group is also devoted to college educators and the stimulation of course offerings that could create a career path in plain language and simplification for undergraduates.  As the country embraces the need for plain language, we will need properly trained individuals to effectuate these changes.

It is hoped that this conference will be the first step in developing further next steps for the implementation of using plain language and simplification in the legal system in the State of New York. For further information about this conference, please go to https://law.hofstra.edu/PlainandSimple or contact me at Fern.A.Fisher@hofstra.edu.

[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/01/hiding-in-plain-sight-the-adult-literacy-crisis/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bbd0bff2373a

[ii] id

[iii] https://proliteracy.org/Portals/0/pdf/PL_AdultLitFacts_US_flyer.pdf?ver=2016-05-06-145137-067

[iv] https://www.projectliteracy.com/articles/our-prescription-labels-arent-just-confusing-theyre-dangerous

[v] There are an estimated 1.8 million individuals in court without lawyers annually in New York. http://ww2.nycourts.gov/sites/default/files/document/files/2018-03/2017-ATJ-Commission-Report.pdf  p.6

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