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Simplify Your Language and Get More From Your Colleagues

Lawyers have come in for centuries of criticism for using complex language; it's more important than ever in today's work environment that corporate lawyers communicate as simply as possible

Corporate legal teams have a lot of competition for colleagues’ time and attention. Not only are they one of a slew of assurance functions (compliance, audit, risk teams, and others) seeking to change employees’ attitudes, and so their actions and decisions, they also have to compete with numerous other corporate functions too.

And, most importantly, employees have little time for people getting in the way of their job, which has become an increasingly complex and busy one – involving more information, more change, and more people than ever before.

So to encourage legally-informed decision making, the legal team – and senior managers across the company – needs to communicate about the importance of Legal clearly. Unfortunately, clear and concise communication is a rare skill at all levels of the corporate world, but thankfully there are some straightforward steps that legal teams can take to translate confusing, jargon-filled language into easily digestible messages.

Create Rules to Simplify Content

The legal team at one multinational pharmaceutical firm in CEB’s network of legal teams set rules on language, length, and tone.

The company focused on (chart 1 has more):

  • Using language at a fifth-grade level (the Gunning fog index can help with that calculation).

  • Writing brief sentences and short documents (two-page maximum).

  • Keeping the perspective of the reader in mind.


Chart 1: Simplifying legal language  Source: CEB analysis


From Complicated to Easily Understood

An example of this in practice might change the following:

Contract review guidelines are rules according to contract value, contract type, business authority schedules…”

To:

Enable Co has guidelines on when to send contracts to legal for review: for example, if contracts are over $100,000 in value…

This simplified version is much more likely to be consumed and shared because of three principal reasons.

  1. The lawyer’s perspective shifted to the way employees speak

  2. The focus on “what” and “how” moved to why. If people know why, it makes it easier for them to act.

  3. The message got a lot shorter.

 

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