Why Legal Gobbledygook will be your Undoing

Not long ago I read David Meerman Scott’s Gobbledygook’s Manifesto. Judging by some of the show-stoppers, the sample selected didn’t include law firms but I was left wondering about the plethora of junk that firms peddle:

  • Expert;
  • Clients first;
  • Client centred;
  • Added value;
  • Exceeding clients’ expectations;
  • Adaptable;
  • Approachable;
  • Innovation in everything we do;
  • Excellence;
  • Global strength and vision;
  • The best law firm; and
  • Measurably better.

What does it amount to? In my view, an amorphous blob of sameness.

But perhaps more worrying is how little meaning is attached to these words. They are dreamt up in some cotton wool world of blandness.

I recall when everyone decided it was a good idea to go with three meaningless words. Quite a number of these still subsist.


More than anything, it is confusing.

There is a wonderful chapter in Tom Peters‘ book The Little Big Things where he does a comparison between guru language and real world stuff:

Guru babble:

“Strategic planners and CEOs desperately seeking “blue oceans”.

Real world talk:

“Most of us don’t spend much or any of day making grand plans. Never have. Never will.”

Lawyers, even those who think they are modernisers, cling to their language as if their lives depended on it. I imagine that many think they have to portray their profession through a welter of words that speak to their knowledge, training and status. It wasn’t until quite recently that most would be comfortable dropping the odd latin maxim here or there. Does a client really need to see such words as ‘locus in quo’ or ‘res ipsa loquitor’?

Or what about the need to rely on huge swathes of ‘obiter dicta’ from a Supreme Court case to make your point – to your client!

There are many layers of gobbledygook:

  • One to one communication;
  • Emails;
  • Email disclaimers;
  • Letters;
  • Advertising;
  • PR; and
  • Website/Social Media.
Lawyers, particularly those that have gotten through with minimum attention to their legal careers, feel that they need to hide behind arcane and dull language. It’s a form of security blanket. But, in the brave new world where Big Brands will start to flex their muscles, I am doubtful if you will see a whole load of legal guff being wheeled out to support the message.
They will just play one card: Price.
“We are the cheapest.”
No legal guff there – just plain old common sense.
I am not suggesting that we have to pander to the lowest common denominator – after all law is a serious business – but you need to pay much greater attention to your language. Stop trying to impress with terms that most clients don’t understand.
And when it comes to marketing led communication, less is most definitely more. If you are presented with white space don’t feel you have to fill it.
Some of you may know the story to the amazing book Re-Work. It was literally cut in two and the rest of the book filled with a number of fantastic cartoons.
Can you imagine a law firm doing something similar?
You need to have greater confidence in what you say, rather than sending people to sleep with your arcane nonsense.
One of my biggest grievances is the use of woolly, valueless and opaque value statements.
My two points:
  1. They don’t mean a thing to clients; and
  2. Firms, even if they have spent months developing them, don’t enforce them. In particular, those errant partners who wouldn’t know one end of people management from another flaunt them with abandon.
If you haven’t gotten the message from my blog, I am challenging you to think differently (and profitably) about the way you run your practice. I am quite sure that few, in any, of my ideas are revolutionary, but one thing is for sure, there is a concrete knowing doing gap that still pervades the profession.
As I have said before I can’t command you to do anything, but it is in your interest to piece together your next action points to address service, people development, client retention and profitability.
I would love to spend time on my social media soapbox but I fear that most firms are so preoccupied with holding on to the rock face that something as ‘modern’ as digital media, is just one big distraction.
~ Julian Summerhayes ~

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