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From Biological Dark Matter to Legal Pleadings: Communication is Key

JW Way Fundamental #10: Communicate to be Understood
“Know your audience. Use the language of your audience to write and speak clearly concisely, in away that can be easily understood.”

Recently I spoke to a client about a complaint that had been filed against them.  The person laughed about how the opposing party in the case was “praying” that the court grant the relief requested.   Thinking it was either a typo or that their case wasn’t strong enough so they were “praying”.This caused the client to discount the seriousness of the lawsuit.

We all are accustomed to seeing and understanding legal terms and it is second nature to us.  However, to a first-time client these terms, the legal process, and the strict time deadlines are alien and anxiety producing.  Frequently, clients are emotionally distraught and they are not able to fully listen.  We have to ensure that our clients understand the process.  This is our profession, but it is the client’s life.   And, being involved in a lawsuit or having to consult an attorney – even to review and offer an opinion on documents – is intimidating and daunting.  Even for the best of intellects it may be challenging as it is outside of their realm of knowledge.    While second nature to us, we must take a step back to ensure that the client understands the language and the legal system.

Many disciplines and professions have language that is particular and specific to their purposes, and law is no exception.  I was somewhat excited to learn recently, through a TED talk, that I have biological dark matter in my nose.  I understood, in part, why that was an exciting new venue for scientific exploration (though not one I particularly wanted to undertake) by listening to the talk.  But I knew if I told my daughter, who is majoring in microbiology in college, that I had discovered biological dark matter in my nose, that her understanding of that specific concept and terminology would be much more informed than my own.  And it was.  It is the language of her world, not mine.  To communicate clearly to our clients, requires us to forego some of the particular legal lingo we are most familiar with so that we can become interpreters of what is often a foreign language and culture to our clients.  Clients should always feel comfortable asking questions, knowing that we can define any term or explain any concept in a way they can understand.

About the Author:  Kathy Mathia is an estate planning and corporate paralegal at the law firm of Jaburg Wilk. Kathy Duckwiler is co-author of this post. 

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