Did you know that the second biggest reason for negligence claims and mistakes is Bad Communication with clients? It’s not being out of date on the law - surprisingly that comes only in at number 6.
Remember: this is the 21st century!
These days everyone gets all their daily information off their smartphones, and BBC News even recently reported the rise in ‘smartphone neck’ health problems!
So why do we still think the only way to communicate with clients is sending long dull letters and reports? And when we do, why do we stick slavishly to legalese and jargon? It looks bad on a letter, and even worse when you’re communicating digitally. No other business communicates with its customers like we do, and we get a bad press as a result.
Top tips for good written communication
- Ask yourself: How would I say this if I was not being a lawyer?
- Be sure you know what you want to get across, and keep to the point.
- Write invisibly, so that the reader is focused on what you are saying, and oblivious to how you are saying it. Style distracts from substance.
- Don’t meander; go directly from beginning to end in a straight line, except to the extent that you can justify a scenic route.
- Say it unpretentiously and without fuss.
Use plenty of headings
Break it up and have headings in Bold, possibly even a large font to stand out. Write for the eye, not just the sounds the words make in our minds.
Keep It Short and Simple
Avoid slabs of text and long sentences. Break them up into lists or headings but do not do this slavishly
Use the present tense, avoid for example ‘if the purchaser ‘shall fail’/’should fail’ / ‘shall have failed’ to pay’ and simply state ‘if the purchaser fails to pay’. Use of the passive often allows the drafter to dodge the issue of who is doing something. For example ‘a meeting of the Board is to be called each month’ leaves it unclear who calls it. Use of the active would make the drafter say who calls the meeting, such as ‘The secretary will call a Board meeting every month’.
Instead of saying ‘the parties resolved’ which is clear, reports often say ’the parties have made a decision’, instead of saying ‘effect a severance’ say ‘sever a joint tenancy’. A more direct style is more immediate and clear.
Avoid jargon, verbosity or legalese!
As well as dispensing with hereinafter, wherein, hereby, thereof, therein, thereunder, hereinafter, etc., try to avoid using the following:
‘of even date herewith’ = dated the same date as this document ‘these presents’ = this document ‘the date hereof’ = today ‘situate at’ = at ‘the county of Devon’ = Devon ‘my said mother’ = my mother ‘for the purposes of identification only’ = for identification only ‘such’ = the ‘the said’ = the ‘in the event that’ = if ‘notwithstanding the fact that’ = despite
Simple verbosity too -
Instead of ‘We have submitted preliminary enquiries to the vendor’s solicitors and so can now return replies to them together with the enclosures referred to.’
‘I enclose the replies to the our enquires about the property’
Don’t save it all up to the end - little and often is better than a lot and too late!
Rather than storing up information on the property to put into the final report, clients will appreciate it if you tell them important potential ‘deal-busting’ points as soon as you find them out, such as highway problems, Green Deal or solar panel issues, boundary disputes, odd covenants or restrictions.
Use Standard Client Guides to explain important commonly occurring issues
Every other industry uses helpful downloadable resources to explain important issues to clients rather than bespoke letters, and this approach can be applied to things like Joint Ownership, SDLT, Boundaries, Fracking issues, etc. I have a selection for download at www.propertylaw.guru