Monday, February 21, 2005

The Art of Not Talking Like a Lawyer

Over at metacool Diego Rodriguez talks about using PowerPoint as a story telling aid and not as a bullet point machine. Certainly worth the read. His remarks point at something even larger if it’s your wish to connect with other people. That bigger thing is “being understood”.

As a trained professional you’ve been immersed in the language of your colleagues. Dictionary.com defines your language as “legalese”. This is good because that language expresses thoughts, concepts and truth in a way that holds particular meaning for those in your profession. On the other hand, the vast majority of people you talk to in practice development and marketing activities do not have that language skill.

Not surprisingly if you ask most people, including corporate executives, what a “tort” is, they know, but they don’t know. Or the recent law firm favorite, “complex litigation”. To most of us that means a really tough law suit. Go ahead, ask around. Don’t be surprised. There are so many words and terms attorneys use as part of their natural language that are only vaguely familiar to non-attorneys.

If you are a parent then you know exactly what I am talking about. I would never say to a four year old, “it would serve your interests best of you would…” Nope. I would say, “I’d like you to…” To simply state “complex litigation” as a service offering in collateral or discussion will leave most people a little confused. It would be better for you to state that your firm is very good at handling law suits about really difficult issues like patents and liability, that these kinds of law suits usually involve a large number of people and a lot of money is at stake.

Certainly “complex litigation” is a clean and quick way of stating what you do, but in marketing and business development ‘understanding’ produces more results.

Some attorneys have argued that “talking like an attorney” is important as part of the proof that you know what you’re doing (walks like a duck, talks like a duck, must be a duck). I don’t think people draw their conclusions from your ability to speak legalese, but rather from your ability help them understand what their choices are and your concern that they comprehend what lies before them.

It is OK for you to speak slowly and use small words. Your audience will thank you.