For years, we lawyers relied on connecting with clients, juries, judges, and other lawyers the old fashioned way: through human contact. Since much of our job depends on the ability to connect with people, we used natural methods of connecting: a smile, a warm handshake, a friendly tone of voice, and body language to make that all-important connection—that connection that says, “I care,” or “I’m listening,” or “You should believe me,” or “I’m really happy to meet you.”
Social Media Has Changed That World
Instead of relating through sight, hearing, and touch, we now post, comment, and blog. We’re limited to having people make judgments about us and our ideas based on a flat screen of printed words. On Facebook, we’re asked to “Like” or “Friend” someone or something, based on only a handful of words and maybe some pictures. We send words out into the world of cyberspace, like a message in a bottle sent out to sea, hoping that there is someone on “the other end” that we can educate, inspire, or entertain.
Since people are going to know us based only on our words, how will we choose those words? How will we “speak” to our readers, and how will they connect to us? It’s a blank slate. You can be anybody you want to be, so—who do you want to be?
The answer to that question is simple, but it is not easy: be yourself.
How Do You Be Yourself with Just Words?
Reading samples of legal advice given by many lawyers (and rereading everyone’s early blogs) will give you a better idea of just who you want to be—right now. Here are a few observations:
Lawyers don’t write or speak like normal people. When our law school professors told us that they would teach us to think like lawyers, that fact also carried into how we write and speak. If you doubt me, try this exercise: pick out a fairly lengthy statute, give it to one of your non-lawyer friends, and ask him or her to sum it up in plain English. They probably won’t be able to tell you, because the sentences are impossibly lengthy and defy most rules of formal English grammar and construction. If you still doubt me, I dare you to try to diagram a sentence of statutory law.
Have you ever wondered why statutes are written without any feeling? There is no need for feeling in statutes, regulations, contract clauses, or cases. They are “The Law,” to be interpreted, applied, and judged without emotion, just like Lady Justice—the statue who stands blindfolded holding the scales.
Still, many of us still use words like “hitherto,” “thereof,” “hereinbefore,” and “Terms of ‘Art’”, just to use a few obviously cheesy examples, because we’re mostly writing briefs, trusts, and contracts which will be read mainly by other lawyers and, perhaps, judges. Have you noticed that non-lawyers don’t write that way?
Remember, all we have are words. Stiff, formal legal writing gives the impression that we are also stiff and formal. Is that the way you want to be perceived? Is that how you’re going to connect? We know that we’re not stiff and formal just because we write that way, but do they?
How Do We Put Feeling and Connection into Our Writing?
Imagine that you have a terrific blog topic. Now, before you write, try to imagine a live person sitting right behind your computer screen. Imagine the face of that person, anxiously awaiting every one of your thoughts. Who is he or she? What words are you sure that he or she will understand? Why such interest in your topic? What will they feel after hearing you? Now, using your keyboard instead of your mouth, tell that imaginary person what you want to say. I used the words “tell” and “say,” because you’re going to be writing conversationally with your keyboard—not composing an essay.
What Do We Know about Talking to Each Other?
Well, when we talk, we sometimes:
- Don’t speak in complete sentences
- Use simple words, rather than Big Lawyer Words
- …pause… for emphasis
- Have a thought that we are talking about (while we’re having a different thought at the same time)
- RAISE OUR VOICE TO MAKE A POINT!
Just like the techniques used in these bullet points, we can use the entire keyboard to simply talk to our readers and to connect with them and their feelings and needs —just as though they were right behind our computer screen. Just try it.
It’s good to communicate… but it’s even better to connect.
About the author: Joe Masiuk is a partner in the law firm of Flood & Masiuk, LLC in Southampton, Pennsylvania. He has been an estate planning and elder law attorney, exclusively, for the past 12 years. The firm is also a member of the prestigious American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. Follow him on Twitter: @floodmasiuk or on Facebook: Flood & Masiuk, LLC.