Lawyers are people too
I was hanging out with some lawyers in Detroit a couple of weeks ago (I know, what will Glen Hoddle think I’ve done in a past life?).
I asked them what makes a good bit of legal writing. And somewhat surprisingly, they said all the things I’d want them to say: clear, concise, even warm.
They’re right, of course (there’s evidence that less formal English is even more likely to persuade judges). Yet it’s not what most of us see from most lawyers.
Lawyers are faced with an extreme version of a task that most of us face in our writing, which is getting people to do what we want. And in real life most of us know that takes not just the intelligence to construct a watertight clause, but the emotional intelligence to persuade someone you’re not trying to screw them over.
Our client Jos Sclater, general counsel at GKN, made the point beautifully:
‘I’m trying to get my legal team not to think of contracts as just legal documents. They’re not. They’re often the first expression of the sort of relationship you want with your supplier or customer. So if that document is complicated and defensive, it suggests that’s what your company’s like, too.’
That’s why in Blink, Malcolm Gladwell points out that doctors in the US with good bedside manners get sued less than their colder counterparts (even when they make mistakes!). We just can’t switch off that human bit of our brain.
(Oh, and if you deal in legal writing that needs a dash of human, come along to our Letters of the Law workshop.)