Do you sometimes notice that your clients’ eyes glaze over while you’re explaining an important legal matter? If so, chances are you’re speaking to them in the foreign language of “legalese.”
While using legal terms may seem natural to you, it’s not to your clients. In fact, according to the 2018 Thomson Reuters Consumer Client Experience Survey, 92 percent of respondents said “a lawyer’s ability to discuss the case in an understandable way” was most important to them.
In addition to making your clients’ heads spin, such language also puts you in danger of sounding arrogant, which can ruin an attorney-client relationship faster than you can utter “hereto.” According to one former client’s description, “He was a hotshot, but I didn’t feel like I was his priority.” Clients already know you possess expertise and knowledge, which is why they hired you. Therefore, ditch the jargon and become the translator of the law your clients need.
A brief history of legalese
Don’t worry. It’s not your fault.
The legal language evolved over centuries and was influenced by numerous languages that converged during the Medieval period. Due to the combination of languages, it was common practice to string two or three words of different origins together to convey a single legal meaning.
The law has come a long way since prehistoric Britain, and so should the way your clients are served. Although legalese terms and phrases are still used throughout the legal profession in court rulings and legal documents, the movement for switching to plain language is gaining ground at a very pivotal time. The legal climate is changing, competition is fierce, and a breakdown in communication could send your client looking for greener pastures.
What you can do
Lawyer speak can be especially confusing for clients, whether it’s during an in-person meeting, via email, or even on your website. Potential clients are likely already stressed and fearful of their situation, and hitting them over the head with legal jargon won’t score you any points. Using complicated language doesn’t help your clients understand their legal position, and it certainly doesn’t help you gain their trust and loyalty.
Clients want an attorney who will take the time to explain their case to them on a human level using clear and concise terms. Taking a customer-centric approach by actively listening to their concerns, understanding their needs, and responding accordingly with their best interest at heart will elevate you to hero status much faster than a fancy vocabulary.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall back into lawyer mode. Use the following tips to improve how you communicate with clients.
- Simplify, simplify, simplify: Your clients are not members of the legal profession and will not understand much of the legal terminology you use. For example: instead of using words like interrogatories or depositions, when talking about the discovery process, reframe it in simpler terms such as written questions and answers, and interviews. Afterall, comprehension is vital for a client to feel comfortable with the handling of their case.
- Be human: Be down to earth, be authentic, and show an interest in your client’s well-being. By listening with empathy and acknowledging clients’ emotions and feelings, you have an opportunity to establish trust from the start. Although it won’t change the outcome of their case, it will show them that you care, which can serve to strengthen the attorney-client relationship.
Once their feelings have been expressed and acknowledged, you can move forward with relevant questions, using simple terms.
- Put yourself in their shoes: Approach each client’s legal situation as if it were your own. Think back to before you went to law school, passed the bar, and started your practice. What would you want to know, and how would you want to be treated? Would your pre-attorney self, understand complex legal terms and language? Probably not. Therefore, keep it simple but real. Make sure clients truly understand the possible outcomes and consequences so that they can make informed decisions.
By changing your language and switching to a customer-centric perspective, you can replace that bewildered look in your clients’ eyes with one of comprehension and trust.
To help you gain a deeper understanding of today’s clients, read the playbook, Seven Things You Don’t Know About Your Clients, And What You Can Do to Serve Them.