If you're reading this blog, you may have come across the phrase "confidence through clarity" as you've navigated your way around the Morton Fraser website. When someone asks for a bit of advice, it's all too easy to get carried away and share the full library's worth of knowledge that you've picked up over the years and although we might sound really quite clever if we throw lots of fancy legal lingo in to every piece of correspondence - that unfortunately for us, does not a good lawyer make. The majority of clients that we deal with on a daily basis have no legal training and they simply want to know if you can do what they're asking of you. By keeping it simple and saying what we mean, it avoids any misunderstanding and clients know they've got the answer to their question. If someone with no understanding of the case couldn't pick up your latest letter and understand what you're saying then it needs a bit of tweaking.
The same applies when dealing with other lawyers. Many a time a non-lawyer has told me that they imagine us to deal in big words and latin phrases all day long (and who am I to disappoint by telling them otherwise?) but it just doesn't make sense to. Keeping discussions clear and to the point saves time (and money) and keeps negotiations focused. It will also save having to answer questions and clarify what might be an excellent (but misunderstood) point later.
And even once you're finally able to master the clear, simple language, that's only half the battle - you always need to watch your tone. I spent the first year of my legal career in the litigation department and I quickly learned that every now and then, a "softly softly" approach and correspondence littered with "please" and "thank you" just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes the situation needs a more formal letter in words and tones stronger than you would normally care to use but on certain occasions, it's necessary to achieve the desired effect.
Now, having moved on and become a commercial property lawyer, just about all of my work is done via email, whether corresponding with clients or other lawyers and irrespective of whether I know them well or not. The difficulty with email is that it's somewhat less formal than a letter and it can be difficult to pick up on tone. I'm sure just about everyone has received an email that's made them feel like they've just received a telling off in the headmaster's office only to discover later that that's not what was intended. Nevertheless, nobody wants to earn themselves the reputation of being rude, aggressive or difficult to deal with so it's important to find a balance, gauge your audience and get it right first time.
As a lawyer, words are the tools of our trade but they're only as effective as the way they're used. As a trainee, getting the law right can be the easy part but expressing that knowledge can be much trickier.