It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Prejudice. It’s an ugly word. While no one wants to believe it could apply to them, we all know that prejudices exist, and sometimes we’re not even consciously aware of them. In fact, the thing that triggers our biggest fear – that sense of division – is subtle enough that you probably wouldn’t even think of it. It’s not skin color, gender, class or sexual orientation. It’s language. Surprised? We were too, but it makes sense if you think about it.

In a recent blog post, James Kane – who will be the keynote speaker at the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference this March – said, “Consider our ancient ancestors living in their tribes and communities hundreds and thousands of years ago. The most reliable information they had to distinguish their friends from their potential enemies was a common language and a familiar means of communicating. You could have a different skin color, be a different gender, or be inflicted with a disability and still be part of my clan. But not if you didn’t speak my language. That was a tell-tale sign that you were an outsider and a potential threat.” We have been evolutionarily trained to be on guard when people sound different from us. If we take that concept and apply it to law firms and lawyers, where do we end up?

It’s a well-accepted fact that the language of law – “legalese” – can be cumbersome and complex. While it’s obviously important that detailed language be used within the scope of contracts and the like, it’s just as important that the language used between attorneys and clients be ordinary and accessible. Like doctors, mechanics, and many other specialists, lawyers must be careful not to alienate clients with unnecessarily technical language, buzz words or jargon. Overly complicated language is less likely to impress clients than it is to leave them feeling distant, confused or worse, inferior. Keeping things simple and clear every step of the way leaves no room for misunderstanding, and keeps you and your clients on common ground, which will make building that oh-so-crucial authentic relationship we’ve talked about much easier.

So what say you, counselors? Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts below.