3-minute read, 10-minute exercise
#Efficiency #Effectiveness #HumanIntelligence
You are a wonderfully unique lawyer with niche legal knowledge and skills based on your experiences. Clients come to you because they value you and the services that you offer. Your clients don’t come to you to get a generic and valueless document that they could have downloaded in a fraction of the time and for a significantly lower cost.
You Need to Add Human Intelligence to Your Documents
Adding human intelligence means to redesign your document so that you can easily adapt it for your client’s needs. Your clients need documents that you design for them. They don’t want to see documents that look like you have used them in a hundred different matters that they cannot read, understand or use.
Let’s meet your example target client, Josh. He is a small business owner who is looking to engage a marketing specialist to promote his mortgage brokering business.
Use the Tone of Your Drafting to Reflect the Characteristics of Your Target Client
How you draft will depend on the characteristics of the specific target client that you decide is right for your practice. There is a range of people like Josh with mortgage brokering businesses out there, but the people you decide to focus on for your practice will have specific characteristics. You might see Josh as relatively inexperienced in business, tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and driven. To someone else, Josh may have experience in business, old school, risk-averse and overwhelmed. Decide which range of people like Josh you will focus on for your practice.
The tone is how you use words and phrases to show how your legal practice approaches your target client. The tone you use depends on who your target client is, what you see that their characteristics are and the solution that your target client needs from your practice. So, for Josh who is inexperienced but driven, you would need to use words and phrases in your precedent agreement that convey more detailed information about what they need to do but in a more direct way. For Josh who is experienced but risk-averse, you would need to use words and phrases that have less detailed information about what to do, but more checks and breach processes cater to their risk profile.
For all clients, your tone should be positive and unassuming. Any Josh shouldn’t have to read a document from you that has so much negative language that makes him wonder whether engaging a marketing specialist for his business is even worth it. And while your document should objectively manage the risks to Josh’s business, it shouldn’t assume that the mortgage broker is out to do everything in their power to cripple Josh’s business.
Use the Style of Your Drafting to Convey the Subject Matter in a More Functional Manner
The style you use for your drafting will be as unique as you. However, it should use plain language and focus on your target client. Josh needs to be able to find the information he needs within your document, understand it and use it. If Josh can’t do that, then your document doesn’t function well. It’s that simple.
You should also avoid wordiness, complex terms and passive voice. Not every Josh will have years of experience reading complex legal documents, let alone know the history of case law behind the meaning of key terms and be able to decipher who needs to do what. As lawyers, we’ve been trained to read documents this way, but we shouldn’t expect our clients to.
Try highlighting any long or complex sentences, any terms that are difficult to understand and every instance of using the passive voice. Now do what you can to change all of the highlighted parts. Long or complex sentences should be able to be broken down into clear and concise sentences with one point per subclause. If there are terms that are difficult to understand, consider whether you need a separate clause or process to determine whether the concept applies, then link back to what the party needs to do. Finally, you should mostly use the active voice rather than the passive voice to make sure poor Josh clearly understands who needs to do what.
Try It Now
Choose one of the precedent documents that you often use in your practice. Now go through and define the target client and service for which you use this version of this document. You can always change other versions of the same document to suit other target clients.
Now go through and use the tone and style to add some human intelligence to your document. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to draft your document. What’s important is that you design your document with your target client in mind.
It will take a bit of practice to learn to be conscious of your tone and style. As with any positive change, actively try to make small steps regularly. It will soon become second nature, and you’ll be able to add more steps soon enough.
When you think you have finished, try giving a copy of your document to a non-lawyer friend that you trust to provide honest feedback. Ask them to read the document as if they were your client and ask if they were able to find enough information on what to do, if they understood what they needed to do and if they thought they would be able to do it. Get them to highlight anything that didn’t work for them. Then go back and change anything that has been highlighted. Repeat until you are both happy with the document and make sure to buy your friend lunch or dinner to thank them.
In the meantime, we have a range of automated legal documents that can be highly customised and that are available for you to use in your practice now. Join the Support Legal community to access these documents, learn from our resources and collaborate, connect, explore and share with other innovative lawyers in our community group.