Susan Kostal's Legal Marketing Bits & Bites Newsletter
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Legal Marketing 

Bits Bites

July Newsletter

Write Your Way Into the Euphemism-Free Zone

Unemployment is at a 16-year low, at 4.3%. Part of that improvement is undoubtedly the cottage industry that has exploded based on parsing language coming out of the Trump Administration. Much work last month went into dissecting the use of the word “hope.”

Until we get an evaluation of any potential obstruction of justice charges, I’ll label Trump’s use of “hope” a euphemism.

Stay Away From Dangerous Cliffs
For serious writers and editors, euphemisms are the equivalent of “OMG get away from that cliff right now.” Euphemisms muddy communication, breed confusion and mistrust, and generally set off red flags.
 “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Inigo Montoya in the “The Princess Bride”
While exaggeration puts a sentence or paragraph in danger, an ill-considered euphemism places the whole message on a precipice. It poisons the entire text. Why? While exaggeration and hyperbole are bold, brash and passionate (and therefore potentially forgiven as an emotional outburst), euphemism is inherently defensive and suggests deceit. We live in a post-fact, euphemism-laden political environment, which means we need to be all the more vigilant in our own writing and phrasing.

Let Papa Keep You Safe
How to avoid these? Take a Hemingwayesque approach to your copy. Short sentences, clear nouns and verbs and simple construction. Multiple clauses and qualifiers in a sentence or paragraph should raise an alarm. A sentence that seems to demand a full paragraph of explanation is highly suspect.  

If you are tempted to use a word that lies outside of these boundaries, consider what it means in a different context. United Airlines made the unfortunate choice to use the word “reaccommodate” when airport police forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight.

Examine whether you would use the word to describe killer whales trapped in the wild to be housed at aquariums or theme parks. Consider using it to describe evicted tenants, or a divorcing spouse court-ordered to move from the family home. None of these pass the “reaccommodate” smell test.

Think of how you would communicate in any longstanding and valuable relationship. Be clear, be authentic, genuine, and concise. These are the most dependable guardrails.

Bottom Line: Write Clearly and Plainly
If a client’s approach is dangerous, don’t deem it “questionable.” Your clients deserve your direct and straightforward analysis. Most attorneys won’t fall into this trap. All the same, don’t risk falling back on vague language to avoid angering a valued client. Don’t poke a presiding judge by employing a softer euphemism in an attempt to soften a client’s culpability. And definitely don’t use euphemism in a conversation with a partner or spouse. Keep the peace. Speak plainly and clearly.

Enough said.

Have You Heard?

The first-ever "General Counsel Up-At-Night" survey reveals in-house counsel's top concerns: regulations and enforcement; privacy and data security; risk and crisis management; litigation; and intellectual property. 

Orrick has a new parental leave policy that includes "on boarding" when a parent returns to work

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates tweeted as a private citizen for the first time, highlighting her WaPo op-ed regarding Jeff Sessions' effort to undo decades of criminal justice reforms. She joined Twitter in June and has over 121,000 followers. Yes, social is real.

As further evidence, here's my list of the top in-house counsel on Twitter. Please email or DM with suggested additions. 

And for some light summer reading, a fired BigLaw associate in LA was charged with extortion after he threatened to reveal data about Dentons' clients, associate reviews, quarterly financial reports, and more. 

Check out my blog for more tips for your marketing and media queries

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