Why Is Plain Language Important in Class Action Notice?

Plain language is writing and presenting information in such a way that your reader understands it quickly, easily, and completely the first time they read it. Plain language avoids verbose, technical, obscure, or convoluted jargon. It is clear, concise, and correct, matching the reading skill level of the desired recipients. While technical and legal jargon inevitably creeps into settlement communication due to the nature of court documents, plain language is a necessary component of class action notice.

Plain language is a rule, not a suggested guideline.  

Rule 23b in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure makes plain language a mandatory rule:

“For any class certified under Rule 23(b)(3) … the court must direct to class members the best notice that is practicable under the circumstances, including individual notice to all members who can be identified through reasonable effort. The notice may be by one or more of the following: United States mail, electronic means, or other appropriate means. The notice must CLEARLY and CONCISELY STATE IN PLAIN, EASILY UNDERSTOOD LANGUAGE:

(i) The nature of the action
(ii) The definition of the class certified
(iii) The class claims, issues, or defenses
(iv) That a class member may enter an appearance through an attorney if the member so desires
(v) That the court will exclude from the class any member who requests exclusion
(vi) The time and manner for requesting exclusion, and
(vii) The binding effect of a class judgment on members.”

Plain language is best practice in all class member communications

Modern consumers are faced with a whopping 5,000 ads per day.[1]; With that many exposures, consumers are prone to read headlines only or to scan for the important info first. This is why plain language is so important – a consumer needs to be able to quickly ascertain an ad’s meaning and whether it applies to him or her in just a few seconds or less. An experienced administrator and notice expert team crafts all notices to effectively communicate with class members, helping them quickly make informed decisions about whether they want to participate in the settlement.

It’s not enough to just write clearly, the information must be organized and presented simply as well. Start with your headline. Your headline might be the only sentence read, so make it impactful. Consumers scan the headline before committing to reading the entire ad. Without a short, compelling headline readers will tend to move on.

Tips to make your headline stand out:

  • Keep it simple, about to 9-15 words. 
  • All the detail goes in the body copy.  (That includes the class definition!)
  • State the benefit: Money, Cash, Benefits, $100

Paragraphs should be kept short, and free of distractions like run-on sentences. Topics chunked into many paragraphs with clearly defined headlines are easy to read and digest.  Think about a phone number. Is it easier to read as 7348675309 or (734) 867-5309?  Lists or bullets should also be used when presenting a lot of information under the same sentence.

All variations of the summary notice, including email, postcard, publication notice, and even the detailed long form notice and website should be carefully crafted and reviewed to speak plainly so that the recipient “notices it, recognizes its connection to their lives and self-interests, reads it, and acts on it,” as the Federal Judicial Center puts it.

Plain language helps you gain court approval the first time

To gain court approval for your proposed settlement, the court must deem your efforts fair and adequate for class members. An effective notice should not just reach possible claimants in physical form, but in comprehensible form as well. “Better than nothing” is not an acceptable defense in court.

In some cases, judges have sent parties back to the drawing board, deeming notices, efforts, and plans unsuitable. Using plain language helps your class better understand the settlement and the claims process and reduces unnecessary call center questions. Properly written notices increase the odds your prospects will not only receive your message but also respond to it as expected, thus eliminating bottlenecks and delays in the court approval process.

Contact Heffler Claims Group for Expert Class Action Notice Media Services

Through our full-service, in-house media team, Heffler offers superior outreach programs that are rooted in analytics, validated by third-parties and highly defensible in court. Heffler’s notice media team is led by the industry’s most distinguished legal notice and communications experts. We specialize in legal notice and have successfully planned and implemented thousands of court-approved notice programs, government enforcement actions, and recalls including some of the largest worldwide. Contact us to learn more about crafting expert class action notices in plain language and other ways to ensure swift approval.

Julie Meichsner
Julie Meichsner is the Media Supervisor for Heffler Claims Group, with over six years of design experience. She has planned and managed media programs for some of the largest securities class actions, including The Countrywide RMBS Settlement, Residential Capital LLC., Stichting Converium Securities and the AMR Corporation bankruptcy, among others. Additionally, Julie is a plain language specialist, working with the noticing team to ensure that notices are compliant with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23 and that they are tailored in style and form to class member preferences.

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