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Victoria Mole
30 April, 2010  
Word games

Lawyers can’t write properly … Some can’t talk proper … Now it’s infecting the secretaries … Vicki Mole remembers the Plain English training she got as an articled clerk … It comes in handy

imageLast year, my secretary was rockin’ the Baltimore street slang, Stringer Bell stylie.

It was all “re-up” on toner cartridges, holler on credit for her “burner”, “hopper” barristers and dodging the “five-oh” on the tram each morning.

Pay that, I too was loving the game, even though others would turn her upside down and look for her subtitles button.

But now she’s taken on a new lexicon and it’s driving me mental. No, she’s not talking like a vampire or a valley girl. Worse.

She’s talking like a lawyer.

It started with an email:

“Hi Vicky!!!

In relation to Friday morning, please note I will be attending the doctor in relation to a health issue in relation to my ankle. Please do not hesitate to advise me if this will be an inconvenience with regards to the X file and I will liaise with Kelli about organising a replacement in relation to Friday morning.

Kind Regards


It continues. A Post-it in the fridge:

“With regards to my cheese, please do not hesitate to advise me if you would like some and suitable arrangements can be coordinated in relation to it.”

Vale hands off my cheese.

Alas, it is the older lawyers of the Firm that she chosen to mimic.

We did a lot of useless training as articled clerks – how to use the internet, how to interview clients (as though we’d be let within 50 metres of one in our first five years in the profession), Federal Court advocacy (ibid) ...

But there was one two-hour session that, aside from “I’ll have to get instructions on that”, balancing in heels on the ladders in the Supreme Court library and sub-delegation to seasonal clerks, was perhaps the most useful thing I have learned in my legal career.

It was Plain English™ training: five or so simple rules that could be applied to any piece of writing: short sentences and paragraphs, the active voice, avoiding over-capitalisation and jargon and a list of phrases to avoid and substitute with words the average high-rise pusher would understand.

I appreciate it is currently quite à la mode to complain of such things – if only Don Watson would let it drop and set his beautiful mind back to crafting lyrical morsels for the “working families” brigade – but legalese is ugly, unhelpful and, clearly, infectious.

imageSartorially, you either have style or you don’t.

In matters of language, it is so easy to fake-it-till-you-make-it that it is positively inexcusable that grammatical Crocs (seen here) are still mainstream attire in the legal profession.

You don’t need to be a Lord Denning.

Just put the important stuff at the start of the letter, find a subject for each sentence, do a Ctl+H replace for the aforementioned stupid phrases, kill your Shift-happy capitalisation and your words will speak clearer than a visit from Chris and Snoop.

Pay that.