The joy of simplicity

1 03 2010

Looking back over my last few posts, I’ve noticed a worrying theme. They are getting longer. To me, that’s not a good sign. From my early days as a lawyer, I was always a fan of eliminating complexity. Wherever possible, I liked to draft documents in “plain English”, and read a number of books alongside the practical learning I was doing in my day to day work. That said, I always thought there was more scope for the profession as a whole to make our output more accessible (which doesn’t mean dumbing down).

Simplicity; does your drafting look like this?

Moving in-house, the need for simplicity became  more apparent. Seeing the legal process first hand as a relatively small (but important!) cog in the overall commercial picture (whether client contracts, M&A or employment law), the various professionals working with lawyers want their support fast. If clients, whether internal or external, have to go back to their advisor and clarify the advice, this adds a delay into the process as well as reducing client satisfaction.

Simplicity is not limited to the content of the advice either. The presentation of the content can also be over-engineered. Documents with definitions scattered all over the place, random attachments, horrendous fonts and formatting; these all make the advice more complex than it needs to be.

The challenge of course, is that sometimes, complexity is easier for the lawyer. For example, starting drafting with a favourite document that has a style favoured by another client, and then focusing on the changes to the content rather than the overall output and client experience. Another common time-saver (that often happens unconsciously) is using a particular style of drafting because it is easier for the lawyer (who may have been using it for years)  and requires less thought than drafting in language that will delight (yes delight) the client.

The challenge is compounded, because lawyers are often very precious about their drafting (hands up, I fall into this category) and making suggestions for improvement to anyone other than a very junior lawyer are about as welcome as suggestions to improve dress sense or love-making technique.

So, taking my own advice I’ll stop there and keep it simple.  For those of you interested in the presentation side of this topic, the book Impact by Jon Moon is well worth a read.


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