Very early in my legal career I realised that I spoke differently from my clients (and even friends). This might be very obvious to many, but after years of
indoctrination tuition, you begin to think that everyone talks in legal jargon on a daily basis. The jokes you find funny, normal people don’t (not that I think we are abnormal). The Bitter Lawyer living the dream series sums it up very well. You can watch them here.
I believe and practise plain English. This requires us to write in a simple, non-legalistic way, allowing everyone to understand what the document is saying. There is no reason why a client should need to go to another lawyer to understand what you (their lawyer) have written to them. Trust me, this happens.
I taught a law class a while back and I stressed the importance of writing in plain English. I came up against such opposition, some of the reasons they gave against it, were so ridiculous, I won’t state them here. Just know that they felt gobbledygook made them special. As if they are all knowing, and the rest of the population isn’t. Very soon, upon qualifying they will realise that the reality of practising as a lawyer is very different from whatever notion they had in their head. You need clients to be a rainmaker, clients want clear advice, so to be a rainmaker you have to please the client.
To me, the best lawyers are the ones who can communicate effectively with their client. Of course, the type of words and the extent to which you simplify depends on who your client is. I would not expect you to break down everything for in-house counsel, but I would expect you to do so for Mary Jane.
As a fashion lawyer, our clients are people handling almost every aspect of the business. They are busy people and when they pay for a service, they want the very best. Value for money! They cannot be bothered to ask for clarification of a jargon or having to request better advice. It is essential that you can explain to the designer, for example, what a trademark is, the protection it provides and whether they can trademark or not.
If there is ever a legal niche that requires plain English, I think its fashion law. Intellectual property rights can be very complex to understand (especially when you get into patents and trade dress). Likewise customs and taxation issues can be mind boggling. It takes a skilled lawyer to break down a complex issue into bite sized pieces. I am never impressed by lawyers who copy word-for-word (verbatim) from legislation for example. In fact, I find that often, those lawyers don’t even understand what the law is saying. How can they?!
From my experience, clients don’t want gobbledygook! No really, they don’t. Let me know your thoughts on gobbledygook.