Why NOT Use Legalese?

The young lawyer’s hand shot up at the end of recent writing workshop.

“But why shouldn’t we use legalese? I mean, doesn’t using legalese give us a veneer of sophistication? Doesn’t it show clients that you’re a real lawyer?”

As the daughter of a woodworker, I know the word veneer well. It means a thin layer of higher-quality wood that has been glued to particle board or a much lower-quality wood. If I were the daughter of a dentist, I might also think of the perfect plastic or porcelain coating that goes over imperfect teeth.

Do you see what I’m getting at?

The word veneer perfectly sums up the problem with legalese. These fancy, “lawyerly” words are often covering up something inferior underneath.

Clients — and the courts — are looking for substance. They want to see well-researched facts and a strongly-supported argument in your writing and speaking. If that’s missing and you try to paper it over with erudite legalese words, they’ll see right through you.

Your clients want to understand your advice. They will be impressed by your content, not your veneer of legalese words.

Do you still need to sound professional?

Absolutely.

I’m not suggesting you email your client to say: “I got lotsa stuff 4 ya to look at.”

What I am saying is that you should sound like yourself. Focus on the substance of what you’re offering, and the words will all fall into place. Let your words be as solid and strong as a good piece of wood.