The proven 3-step formula to improve your legal document’s clarity
There is a famous saying by Albert Einstein that goes, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Simplicity is important. Simplicity in language means there is clear communication between two parties. If you think about it, if you understand a topic enough, even the most complex subjects should be simplified enough so a fifth-grader understands. (This is backed up by readability research.)
On one hand, clients seeking an attorney’s help are already going through a stressful situation that requires legal action. On the other hand, law firms today face the constant battle between simple language and legalese. This puts clients in an even more stressful situation.
But leaving clients unclear of what they can expect with your firm is a preventable pain.
Your actions matter. And within the legal industry, your words matter just as much. Continue reading as we unravel a new formula that’ll help your legal writing become understandable for all audiences.
A Linguistic Barrier Between Firms and Clients
Before diving into the proven process, it’s important to look back at the historical relationship between law firms and clients.
It is undeniable that clear communication is a must between law firms and their clients. But, without a clear communication strategy, law firms cannot expect clients to confidently take the right steps towards succeeding in their legal endeavors.
On top of this, the legal industry is changing. In the past, law firms have been inward-facing. Clients now have a very important say within the legal industry, and hugely impact a firm’s reviews and overall reputation online. Clients want to see law firms as a service that embraces all aspects of technological, business, and legal expertise. Whether you get knocks on your door and calls to your phone with new business all depends on what your online presence looks like.
In fact, one of the main changes within the legal industry is the plain English movement. This movement focuses on “wording that is clear and understandable to its intended reader.” Clients want clarity and they want law firms to embrace this as well.
Resisting industry changes like this can:
- Confuse the clients and the legal ecosystem.
- Discourage professionals entering the legal industry.
- Deny the clients the opportunity to better understand the legal industry.
- Impede the client’s complete and clear decision-making process.
Your clients call the shots. They are looking at your website, reviews, and your digital presence.
It’s important the legal industry learns how to adapt to its clients’ wants and needs.
Increase Impact and Clarity In Your Law Firm
Let’s be real. As a society, there is a level of expectation when it comes to lawyers and law firms.
Don’t take it from us. Lawyers are in fact expected, “to come to the table with bigger words”. This is quoted from Judge Robert Bacharach’s podcast episode.
Judge Robert Bacharach from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently sat down with us and shared insights of his latest book, Legal Writing: A Judge’s Perspective on the Science and Rhetoric of the Written Word.
Many years of experience and research led to this incredibly insightful book. It can be seen as a bridge between legal communication and the new plain English movement. He explains that the plain English movement is the first effective effort to change the way legal documents are written.
To briefly note, three action guides law firms can follow are:
- Contextualizing any details before the reader actually gets to the details of the document.
- If there’s too much detail, the reader will be lost. One example he mentions is the use of topic sentences since it focuses on the main idea of a paragraph.
- Simplifying your wording.
- As Judge Robert Bacharach adds, “also using $64 words when a $2 word would work just as well,” is simplifying.
- Linking information.
- He adds that law firms should “create meaningful chunks of information.”
Through generations, law firms have written documents for clients at a level that the average population does not understand. This is also why Judge Robert Bacharach adds that law firms should place themselves “in the shoes of someone who is not familiar with the content.”
Embracing the Legal Industry’s Shift in Language
Language is a big part of the legal community. Language is also complex. Arguably, the legal industry handles some of the most complex languages amongst all other industries!
These are barriers to clear communication between a firm and its clients and prospects. Clients want to be assured of a clear strategy of action, clear steps to take, and clear language.
Judge Robert Bacharach reiterates this with the use of psycholinguistics, the psychological study of language. Within the use of psycholinguistics, he notes that it’s vital law firms take into account:
- Clients – Who is your law firm speaking to? Can this person understand the legal document?
- Sequence – What steps do you want the client to take? Is this clearly communicated?
Your firm’s language can also improve by:
- Replacing the big words
- Testing the readability
- Getting a creative format (Example: lists, bullet points)
Communication is a Two-Way Street
Although lawyers face the expectation to come with the “big words” it is best to say that when it comes to clientele communication, clarity will always win over legal jargon.
At the end of the day, clients want to know if you will be able to help them with their problems. In order to do so, they need to truly understand what you are trying to tell them, and the more simplified you can get your point across, the more likely it is that you will win them over.
Clarity can be your firm’s differentiating factor.
Learn how your firm can build a clear client-centric communication strategy.