I'm amused that so many lawyers fancy themselves to be good writers. They tell me they value clarity and precision above everything else. But what they think is clear and precise rarely comports with my idea.
I had my first drag-out fight about legal writing when I worked as a trusts and estates paralegal after college. In drafting a survivor's clause, I thought it was correct to simply say: "If my wife fails to survive me, my estate shall go to So-and-So." But the partner I worked for changed it to read: "If none of my wife survives me..." He insisted his version added clarity. But I thought it was just inaccurate, not to mention gruesome, suggesting that some parts of the wife might be flapping around.
I never developed a fondness for legal writing--not in law school or in practice. It was painful for me to read and write legal gibberish, which is why I regard it as a miracle that I somehow survived five years as a corporate lawyer.
I doubt anything will cure legalese, but maybe this recent study by New York University and the University of Basel in Switzerland will help. In a nutshell, the study says: If you want credibility, you should avoid using jargon. Writings that use "concrete" rather than "abstract" language got higher marks for truthfulness, according to the study.
But besides abusing the written word, lawyers have also taken to using business-speak during meetings and conference calls. Maybe they're just parroting their banker clients, who have always loved action-sounding jargon. Or maybe they're hanging out too much with management consultants.
In any case, here are some of my pet peeve phrases with translation:
1. "Take it to the next level." Translation: The partner is clueless about what to do, so you better come up with a solution.
2. "We're all about best practices." Translation: The firm is getting failing grades in diversity, women, etc., and has no idea what what to do about the problem.
3. "There is a paradigm shift in the industry." Translation: Your minimal billable requirement is going up.
4. "You will get real-world experience." Translation: You will be stuck doing document reviews.
5. "We have management buy-in." Translation: It was the managing partner's idea in the first place.
Vault has also compiled a handy little list of phrases to avoid. Here are some of them:
Business-speak What people who aren't liars say
"Reach out" "Talk to/phone/e-mail/send carrier pigeon to"
"Deep dive" "Instead of doing our usual half-assed job, we took the time
to investigate properly"
"Deliverables" "Mundane tasks I am responsible for completing"
"Ballpark" "I have no idea. But here's a guess"
"Let's take this offline" "Let's talk about this after the meeting, so we don't
embarrass ourselves in front of the boss/waste everyone else's time"
Is there a favorite phrase that's used at your shop? What corporate drivel drives you crazy?
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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.