To Jargon or Not to Jargon
Get to the Point repeatedly lauds plain language and counsels lawyers to Keep It Simple. But is there ever a reason to purposely defy this maxim?
I’m In the In Crowd
“The BLO lawyer told me the tentative settlement had to be approved by the BCM.”*
“The defense says PD is fully paid, but claimant maintains entitlement to LP and missing TD.”**
Many of our clients talk and write like this. It’s embarrassing to have to ask for a translation. It looks like you don’t understand their industry; maybe you’re not the right lawyer for the job.
When you communicate with people in niche industries or legal specialties, it’s sometimes wise to use their language. It shows you know this area and you’re on the team. It’s good marketing.
If You Cross the Jargon Line
While you are indulging your listener’s passion for coded language, remember to stay bilingual. Someone who does not know this corporate-speak may also receive your communication. Communications — even attorney-client ones in some circumstances — may be subject to discovery. Terms used in one milieu may mean something different in another one, and that can lead to misunderstanding.
When you use an abbreviation, include the full term. Think about how an industry stranger would view this communication and include explanatory language for this hypothetical person.
Remember Why We Avoid Jargon
By definition, jargon is a unique set of terms known only to members of the club for that jargon. It can alienate outsiders, including judges. Using jargon can trigger a memory of an opinion interpreting an industry practice or confuse the heck out of an industry novice.
Start whichever way feels natural for you, using plain language or jargon in your briefs, letters and contracts. Then go back and insert the jargon or plain language as called for so that everyone understands, whether they be experts or newbies.
Make sure every listener understands your oral use of jargon. Define your terms if there is a scintilla of doubt about whether your message is understood.
*Staff counsel employed by the insurance company in the local Branch Legal Office, the BLO, said the settlement had to be approved by the manager of the local insurance claims office. That’s the BCM, Branch Claims Manager, who manages the BCO, Branch Claims Office.
**The defense claims all Permanent Disability payments have been made, but the claimant says he is also entitled to a Life Pension and unpaid Temporary Disability payments.