Sunday, May 24, 2009

Working With Lawyers

Some things must be written for lawyers; fewer things must be written by lawyers. Take employee handbooks. Those must be written for employees, with help from lawyers. Read more on that good advice from SHRM here. (free registration required)

On the one hand, SHRM argues, the employee handbook should be a welcoming document, guidelines giving a framework to life inside the organization (virtually or in the flesh). When lawyers write guidelines, they're rarely welcoming or friendly. And in spite of their best intentions, lawyers can write their way into legal trouble, says SHRM.
Overly legalistic language can make a handbook impenetrable to most employees and might wind up doing more harm than good when there is a legal challenge... (and) wind up unduly limiting the employer’s discretion.---SHRM vol 54 no 5, May 1, 2009
Writing for lawyers can be a drag, frankly. I've done it for more than a decade for one client in particular, whose newsletters must pass legal review before being sent to the intended audience.

For years, I struggled to write for the intended readers and "around" the lawyers.

Unfortunately, I rarely hear from the client's clients - but I hear from the lawyers regularly. Fortunately (for the intended newsletter audience) somewhere along the way I realized that those readers need suggestions that have passed the legal test. Otherwise, they can't heed the advice without running it by council. Obvious? Well, maybe to you. But I have to say it was an AHA! moment for me. And while I still struggle to write the monthly and quarterly newsletters, it's different now.

Now when I pound out those articles, I try to imagine we're working as a team, those lawyers and I. We're not developing a long list of "don'ts," we're offering a legally-insulating "to-do" list. There still are mushy words like "may" and "should" when I really want to write "will" and "should," but you won't find a "heretofore" or "whereas" in my copy.

Because while the party of the first part and the party of the second part may not be having a party, at least we can work together.

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