I recently read a great article by a former colleague of mine (nice work Josie!) about communication and user experience. Although the article has nothing to do with the law, the general themes are equally relevant to legal communication and a useful refresher of why it’s vital to consider the perspective of the ‘user’ of your advice or writing.
I like to think that I avoid legalese and consider my audience before going into print, ie what does the client want or need from my communication? How often do your messages need clarification? What could you have done differently to avoid that re-work? Did you take time upfront to understand what the client wanted, or did you make assumptions?
Josie’s article talks about making communication as informative as required, ie it should be fit for purpose with no more, or less, information than is necessary. Earlier this year I did some Lean Six Sigma training which has made me think more about working efficiently, so this really resonated with me. It's not rocket science. You don’t want to waste hours preparing a 3 page advice when the client only wants 3 paragraphs.
Before you start writing, think about your audience (are they a lawyer/ non-lawyer, experienced business person) and what they want from you. If in doubt, ask! Regardless of your audience, you can probably safely assume they are time poor and the law is a minor part of the business’ success so you need to get to the point simply, quickly and correctly. This isn’t always easy, it is actually much harder to condense your message into a short, succinct advice or contract than a longer one, but it’s an important skill your clients will value.
Some things I try to keep in mind when writing, whether an email, advice or drafting a contract;
· Consider your audience – what do they want from you?
· Plan and organise your message before you start, don’t just brain dump.
· Less is more, use as few words as possible
· Avoid acronyms and jargon. The objective is not to show how smart you are.
Approaching legal writing from the client’s perspective will ensure you deliver the information your client wants (= happy client) and save you time (= happy lawyer).
Jemima Harris - General Manager, QLD