Lawyers should be wary of taking a lead from other sectors on ditching jargon.
Honestly, the sacrifices I have to make in this job. Take my having to read yesterday’s Legal Services Board report on ‘Lowering Barriers to Accessing Services’, which was so unintentionally funny we assumed it was published a day too early.
Lawyers, it would seem, are doing a bad job at communicating with their clients and using legal jargon rather than plain English. Quid mirum, as they're no doubt saying in law firms across the country.
So far, so routinely lawyer-bashing. But there was more: apparently our guiding light in the profession should be utility companies and the Department for Work and Pensions.
The DWP has devoted ‘considerable effort’ to improving the accessibility of pensions language and communications, the LSB said.
On the very day of the report's publication, MPs were calling out the DWP for a ‘lack of transparency’ in performance meaning claimants ‘do not have a clear expectation of the service they can expect’. Truly a lesson for all lawyers in how to communicate.
And what of those plain-speaking utilities companies? I must have been dreaming when the same parliamentary committee lambasted water regulator Ofwat for allowing companies to make £1.2bn in five years from excessive bills.
The public accounts committee called on Ofwat to ‘use comparisons with other sectors and international suppliers to develop a clearer pictures of what services should cost’. Perhaps they should put in a call to the LSB.
The problem here is not with the effort to make lawyers speak in plain English. Of course that should be welcomed and encouraged (although as many Gazette readers pointed out, a ‘toolkit’ for lawyers seems counterintuitive).
Painting lawyers as antiquated duffers bamboozling their clients creates a narrative that undermines the profession
Having said that, it would be useful for firms to retain one Latin speaker, if only to translate judgments handed down by m’learned friends on the bench.
The cynic in me says ‘plain English’ campaigns are another attempt to reduce the legal profession to nothing more than an automated help button, accessed through a series of clicks before an untrained ‘case manager’ gives their assessment of your claim.
Paint lawyers as antiquated duffers bamboozling their clients to stealthily hike fees, and you have yourself a narrative which undermines the profession.
Who wants to pay top dollar for lawyers to fill their inbox with reams of client-care guff, when a cut-price service will cut out those extras and simply provide the legal service on the cheap? And what could possibly go wrong with that?
Clients are patronised as the mindless Angry Birds generation who cannot possibly comprehend lawyers’ jargon. Heck, you’ve probably stopped reading this already.
But for now I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a three-year strategy: 'To inform our work we shall continue our unique and targeted research programme: collectively we are "data light" in comparison with other sectors. We must also think holistically. The division between regulated and unregulated services is a product of history and it would be a well-informed purchaser of legal services who could describe the differences or their implications. We cannot work in a way that is compatible with our regulatory objectives if we do not look at the legal sector as a whole.'
The source of such plain English? Why, the LSB of course.