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Why you need to cut out the jargon and corporate gibberish

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Why you need to cut out the jargon and corporate gibberish

I’m starting the year with a plea to lovers of clichés, jargon and corporate gibberish. Punch the puppy, now.

I saw a brilliant example of jargon a couple of weeks ago. It was in an advert for a head of change at the BBC that seemed to come straight out of the BBC satire W1A. Talk about life imitating art.

One task for the prospective employee was to “Oversee and gain senior stakeholder buy-in for the design and planning of the required change management interventions required to successfully embed the change.”

There was plenty more of this sort of twaddle. One requirement was to “engage senior stakeholders to understand change impacts”. Another was to act as a role model for “good practice change management competences and behaviours”.

The so-called father of advertising, David Ogilvy, was well known for his hatred of jargon. “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon,” he said. He was talking about advertising but could just as easily been referring to any other industry.

Jargon has infected our language. And, according to research last year by Londonoffices.com, it is driving people nuts. Included in the list of phrases that infuriate co-workers and clients are “blue-sky thinking”, “idea shower” and “singing from the same hymn-sheet”. Thankfully, the American desire to “punch the puppy” has yet to cross the Atlantic. (Apparently, it means to do something inexcusable that is good for business.)

One office worker surveyed by Londonoffices.com said: “I overhear colleagues using some of these phrases because they think it makes them sound clever and important, but mostly they haven’t got a clue what they’re on about.”

Worse even than irritating clichés is corporate gibberish. How about the opening of this letter from Philips Lighting to a customer: “Dear Neil, did you know that technologies and standards are evolving rapidly in the dynamic smart city environment?”

The Plain English Campaign hands out Golden Bull Awards for the worst examples of English each year. In the Article and Blog Writing for Lawyers training course I run, I quote this previous award winner.

“A unique factor of the NHS Cheshire Warrington and Wirral Commissioning support organisation is its systematised methodology for project and programme management of small, medium, large service re-design and implementation…Building in equality and risk impact assessments the options are taken through a process to arrive at the content for an output based specification and benefits foreseen as a result of the implementation.”

This always raises a snigger from lawyers. They soon stop laughing when I point out that much of their own writing is equally impenetrable. Such as this legal humdinger: “The revocation by these Regulations of a saving on the previous revocation of a provision does not affect the operation of the saving in so far as it is not specifically reproduced in these Regulations but remains capable of having effect.”

So, here’s a ‘no-brainer’ for 2018 that doesn’t need an ‘idea shower’. ‘Kick the jargon into the long grass’, ‘circle back’ and you are guaranteed a ‘results-driven’ ‘quick win’. Whatever you do though, please don’t punch that poor puppy.

Happy 2018.

The big problem with law firm websites

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The big problem with law firm websites

For reasons that will be of no interest to you at all, law firm websites have been much on my mind the past few weeks. So much so that I decided to carry out a survey into them.

To my complete lack of astonishment I discovered that:

·       90% of law firms build long-term relationships with their clients,

·       93% are passionate about offering bespoke legal solutions, and

·       100% say they put clients first.

OK, I’ll admit, the survey wasn’t exactly scientific and consisted of me pottering around online for a couple of hours. But the figures are probably pretty close to the mark.

Apart from the crime against the English language of “bespoke legal solutions” (for more on which, see below) there’s something odd going on here. Every law firm I speak to is at pains to point out that they aren’t like other firms. And they’re right – every firm is different. Yet all their websites say variations of the same thing. The result is that it is difficult for potential clients to differentiate between firms.

The problem seems to me not so much what they are trying to say but how they say it. Lawyers are honourable types (despite what some may claim) who take the meaning of words at face value. So, when they say they put clients first, build relationships etc., they believe what they say and expect the reader to believe them too.

These websites all fall into the trap of ‘telling’ the reader about the firm and how wonderful it is rather than ‘showing’ them.

The decision to buy something, even legal services, is based about 20% on logic and 80% on emotion. And the way to engage people emotionally is through stories; in short, through showing, not telling.

In a legal context, showing means two things:

·       Case studies that demonstrate all those aspects of your services that are important: legal expertise, dedication to the client, the strength of your long-term client relationships, etc.

·       Client testimonials. Third party validation is infinitely more powerful than blowing your own trumpet. Which is why people read Amazon product reviews assiduously and largely ignore the advertising guff that surrounds the products themselves.

It is through these case studies and testimonials that you can demonstrate how your skills and the way you tackle your clients’ legal problems set you apart from your competitors.

Which brings us to “passionate about offering bespoke legal solutions”. So many lawyers claim to be passionate it’s a wonder they get any work done. Saying you are passionate is meaningless, not to say lazy. It creates no picture in the mind of the reader in the way a case study would. It’s the legal equivalent of ‘GSOH’ in a lonely-hearts ad.

“Bespoke solutions” is equally worthless. “Bespoke” has become a horrible cliché. Is the idea to differentiate from solicitors who ignore the fact that every instruction is different and provide “off the shelf solutions”?

Similarly, “solutions” is so overused it has become an invisible word of no value. I assume some marketing wizard came up with the idea that the way to sell something was to promise to solve a problem. Hence “solutions”.

Put it this way. When the fire brigade saves a child from a burning building, no one wants to hear the fireman say he applied a bespoke firefighting solution to the problem of saving the child. We want to hear the child’s relieved mother say what heroes the fire service were to risk their lives entering a burning, smoke-filled house to rescue their bundle of joy.

Law firms would do well to remember the words of Anton Chekov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Simon Manuel, Ink & Dots.

Simon is the author of Why Your Law Firm Needs a Content Marketing Strategy – and How to Put One in Place, which is available for download here.